Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When We Hurt


"Where is God when we hurt?"

Our world reeks of disease, sickness, viruses, germs. Life isn't lived under a disease-free dome. We catch colds from one another; our bodies are disease prone because of genetics; toxins poison our air, food, and water.

Sooner or later, in one way or another, we get sick--sometimes mildly sick, seriously sick, or terminally sick. When we're sick we hurt.

So, where is God when we hurt? Has he left town? Is he unconcerned? Do more important matters summon his attention?

Jesus cared about sick people. He healed hundreds---individually, sometimes every sick person in a village. Compassion, not success or notoriety, motivated him. Jesus healed because he cared.

Does Jesus still care when we hurt? Paul wrote, "Love never dies." If that's true, then Jesus still cares for sick and hurting persons.

Then why doesn't God heal our hurts? Anemic faith? Maybe. We're in the school of suffering? Maybe. God deleted supernatural healing from his menu? Maybe. Not everyone, even with strong faith, is healed? Maybe.

Paul was no stranger to pain: "I was given the gift of a handicap." He hurt. His pain limited his activity and worked on his emotions: "Satan's angel did his best to get me down." Discouragement camped around his soul.

Paul "begged God to remove it." He did what we do. What sane person enjoys pain? And God answered Paul's persistent begging: "then he told me, 'My grace is enough; it's all your need. My strength comes unto its own in your weakness" (2 Cor. 12).

That's it?

That's it!

Healing withheld. God offered his child a dose of strong-grace instead. And to chase away the demon of despair, Paul was expected to gab God's enabling-grace--strong enough to help him take the next step.

When getting rid of our pain is all we think about we're in danger of missing Christ's strength moving in on our weakness. Only when we let Jesus take over can we duplicate Paul's experience--"the weaker I get, the stronger I become."






Monday, October 18, 2010

First Love


Is it possible? "He loved us first" (I Jn).

Papa-God loved us first. Incredible, yet true. Spiritual beggars. Morally bankrupt. Soiled souls. Yet ... Papa loved us first. No strings attached. No prior 'oughts' or 'have-to's.' Love gushed from His heart to us.

Why?

What can we add to God? What advantage can we offer the One who is already complete and self-existent? We have nothing to offer to enhance him.

Why? We do not know, and we may never know. He loves us because he loves us. We know Papa loves us and that is enough for us here.

And Papa never stops loving us even if we never love him. His love endures forever and has no limits of time or space or quantity or quality. His love is like a bottomless, shoreless ocean into which we are invited to swim.

Love leaves us speechless. At best, we bow in joyful silence and embrace the One who has already embraced us.

"Greater love has no man than this," Jesus said, "that he lay down his life for his friends." Beaten beyond recognition, spiked to a cross, he cried out, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." Love sacrificed himself even when we betrayed him, beat him, and spat in his face.

"God loved the world so much that he gave his Son." He still does.

Love can't rest. It's compelled to give. It gives no matter what the cost. Papa's loved us first. Why? That he might call us his beloved.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


We want credit for the good things we do. It's reasonable. It's fiscally responsible, especially if it's tax deductible. We want out pat on the back.

Jesus sees alms giving differently. "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. ...when you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it--quietly and unobtrusively" (Matthew 6:1-4, Message).

If you promise to help someone, don't talk about it, don't wait for an invitation, do it. Mow their lawn, take a meal, deposit money in their account. Do it. Let God be your witness.

That's exactly the way God works in your life. He never calls attention to Himself. He rescues you from sin, from judgment, from danger. And He does it all the time. But He does it quietly, behind the scenes.

We're the actors. We play out our good deeds as if on a stage. We want our name on the plaque or on the donor list. We're compassionate and generous as long as we can play the crowd. We do something good only to pause for our applause.

Getting credit for doing good things is the way of our world, but it's not the way of God's world. Self-appreciation and applause ranks high on our list but it doesn't make God's list. Why? Because God's kingdom is not about us; it's about Him.

God-centered people help those in need without fanfare or elaboration. They never make generosity a big deal. God-centered people give without excepting or negotiating praise, appreciation, or an ovation. The quality of your generosity reflects the quality of your life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Treat the Patient...


"Treat the patient, not the disease." Such goes the ancient precept. Perhaps once observed, but now ignored. We explain our shift of emphasis with statements like this: "It's more economical to treat the disease and not the patient." "We're trained to diagnosis the disease, not the patient." "If the disease is healed, then the patient is healed."

Most illnesses do not strike like lightening. The ground is prepared for years, through bad habits, stress, emotional and moral problems, and maybe most significantly -- the 'secret tragedies' in every heart. "Man does not die," a doctor remarked, "He kills himself."

Every act of physical, psychological, or moral disobedience of God's purpose for our life has its inevitable consequences. It's the call of the church not to merely treat the illness (sin) but to treat the patient (what caused the sin).

But we don't have time or, more honestly, we don't want to take the time. It's easier to write a prescription -- 'be saved' and 'join the church' and 'come to the meetings' and 'give your time and money'-- then to help people resolve the 'secret tragedies' that keep them sick.

Jesus took a different approach. He understood the disease. But he also treated the patient. His aim was to bring us into relationship with His Father and thereby to bring us into complete wholeness--inside and outside.

Jesus isn't interested in just curing one part of us, He wants to cure all of us--spirit, soul, and body. We discover His wholeness when we bring ourselves under His sovereignty.

"May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together -- spirit, soul, and body -- and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:23).

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Sense of Wonder


Have we lost our sense of wonder?

Several years before his death, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herchel suffered a near-fatal heart attack. His closest male friend was at his bedside. The old rabbi was exhausted by his effort to speak. But he said, "Sam, never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me."

Unlike Rabbi Herchel, we've lost our sense of wonder. We walk through God's creation listening to I-Pods, talking or texting on cell phones, or watching mini DVDs. We've become sophisticated tech-heads going through life without any sense of wonder.

Only the newest tech-toy causes us wonder. Yet even our tech-wonder is short lived. It dies by tomorrow. The new becomes old. Yesterday's wonder becomes today's boredom.

While we wait for our next tech-toy, we barely notice the stars in the sky, a full moon, or dewdrops clinging to rose leaves. Hummingbirds come and go. We don't see them. We mulch every leaf as soon as it falls. We seldom notice a red tail hawk in flight, a chipmunk scampering for a hiding place, a lizard soaking up the sun, or the tiny spider patiently waiting for its next meal.

In our race to get to our next event, we've grown complacent, proficient, high tech, and very practical. Our world has taken on shades of platinum. Glitz replaces beauty. As we gorge at the buffet of self-gratification, we miss the invaluable experience of awe, wonder, and reverence.

But as tragic as missing God's creative panorama of color, sound, and smell is, we're creating a greater deficit -- we bypass the wonder of God. We sit through church services and take for granted "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."

How do we live in the presence of the living God without wonder and reverence? How do we sing about the grace and love of Jesus without being overwhelmed by dazzling awe? How can we listen to the whispers of the Spirit without a deep sense of surprise and astonishment?

Let us ask God for the gift he gave to Rabbi Joshua Abraham Herchel: "Father, grant me the grace of wonder. Surprise me, amaze me, awe me. Allow me to rediscover the wonder of your Person, the glory of your holiness, the marvel of your love and grace, and the surprise of your gifts."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

For The Wobbly & Weak-Kneed


When Jesus said that he came "to preach good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18), he meant the accent of the gospel was for the poor. The word 'poor' does not simply mean poverty but all who suffer -- the unfortunate, wretched, wronged, oppressed, crippled, lame, leprous, demonized. The gospel is for those who have been left abandoned in the world.

As Brennan Manning says the gospel of grace is "for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don't have it altogether and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace."

"It is for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for the poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents."

"It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay. It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God."

"It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags."

His grace is for me.

His grace is for you.

His grace is for anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Journey.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back Door Birth


While Mary and Joesph were in Bethlehem, David's town, for the census, "the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel" (Luke 2:6-7).

True, millions of babies have been born in homes, huts, or outside. But this is not the kind of birth we'd choose. No running water. No midwife. No hot towels. Nothing sterile. A young mother struggling through the pain of her first birth with only her fiancee to help her.

Birth is messy. The umbilical cord had to be cut. The placenta disposed of. The child and the mother cleaned. With what? Water from an animal trough?

And what is this baby's first bed? A warm bassinet in a climate controlled room attended to by neonatal nurses? No. A feeding trough made of mud or clay and stained from the saliva of feeding livestock. That was the baby's crib.

Not exactly the grand entrance one might expect for the Son of God. But there they were, Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus, huddled together in an animal shelter on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

If no one in the world noticed his birth, God did. And the Proud Father announced his Son's birth to a few shepherds camping in the neighborhood guarding their sheep. He sent one of his angels who appeared out of nowhere as Papa's glory lit up their campsite. They were terrified.

God's messenger said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody worldwide. A Savior has been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

The shepherds left running and found the threesome just as the angel described. The shepherds were nobodies but they were Jesus' first visitors. "Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed."

Are we? Or has the story lost its edge? Are we impressed that God threw off his glory and humbled himself to become a human baby? Why? Why such a meager entrance? Why did he come through the back door?

"This is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not be served -- and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage" (Matthew 20:26).



Friday, December 18, 2009

Through A Child's Eyes


Christmas is seen best through the eyes of a child. A one year old face explodes with laughter at the sight of the lit tree, points to her first gift, claps, and asks, "What's that?"

And the four year old who is the first one up on Christmas morning, joy and anticipation exploding inside, and who can't wait to open that first present.

Children don't over analyze Christmas. They don't worry about saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." They understand the Christmas is a time of mystery -- Santa comes while they sleep. How do they know? The milk and cookies they left out for him are gone expect for some crumbs.

Children know Christmas is a time to give and receive. It's at time to laugh and play. It's a time to sing and enjoy being with family and friends. It doesn't matter if there is too much snow or no snow. It doesn't matter if the stock market is up or down. Nothing worries them. It's Christmas.

Most children know the Christmas story. And, Santa aside, they understand the Father's love poured out in baby Jesus.

And maybe that's enough.

Stop what you're doing. Reflect on Papa-God's enormous love in baby Jesus. Let the meaning of Christmas be refreshed in your heart.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Occam's Razor


William of Occam (or Ockham, a town in England), who lived 1285-1349, was a philosopher and a Franciscan monk, a pious man who took his vow of poverty very seriously. He lived using only what was absolutely necessary. From his simple life came a powerful idea which later came to be known as "Occam's Razor."

What was his idea? It was a philosophical guide or suggestion which states: when given two explanations for the same thing, the simpler one is usually the correct one. Originally, William wrote his notion in Latin in two parts: 1. Plurality should not be posited without necessity, 2. It is pointless to do with more what is done with less.

Why was the Franciscan's monk's thought called a razor? Because he wrote about it so much and used it so often, like shaving everyday. Thus the tag "Occam's Razor."

Occam's Razor is used in computer programing, medical diagnosis, and scientific research. That his thought is still used in the 21 century is impressive in itself.

I'll apply it to Christianity and the church. To say Jesus lived a simple live is an understatement -- "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests. But the Son of Man doesn't have a place to call his own" (Matthew 8:20). It doesn't get much simpler than that.

The simple Jesus was born in a animal shelter, laid in a trough, grew up in a nowhere village, wore homemade clothes, traveled by foot from village to village followed by a ragtag group of people who depended on the gifts of others for their basic needs. Nothing flashy, prosperous, or affluent about him.

One wonders if the Simple Jesus would feel at home in our affluent churches, ornate temples, and elaborate cathedrals? Maybe it's time to apply Occam's Razor to 21 century Christianity?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What We Think About God


It's been suggested that what we think about God is the most important thing. Maybe not. What God thinks about us seems infinitely more important. After all, God has the final say.

So, what does God think about us? 'God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die' (John 3:16).

That's what God thinks about us. He loves us enough to sacrifice everything for our sakes. His love is an infinite love, a love that surpasses knowledge, a love that has a length and a breadth, a depth and height which bypasses our comprehension.

Outside of revelation of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to grasp the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We can talk about his love, sing songs about his love, read scripture about his love, but apart from the Spirit's illumination we cannot begin to understand or experience his love.

Why? Because God's mind and ways '...are higher than the heavens--what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave--what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea' (Job 11:8-9). We can only kneel before our infinite God who loves us with a love that goes beyond anything we've ever known or experienced and offer our praise.

What we think of God matters only to the extent that it relates to what God thinks of us. It is written that we shall "stand before Him"-- our final and ultimate inspection. How will we survive such scrutiny? Only through the saving love of God demonstrated to us through his Son, Jesus.

Papa's love doesn't pity us or pat us on the back; his love wraps us in his arms and holds us tight. His love purifies, cleanses, forgives, and accepts us without regret or reservation. To be loved by God is a privilege and honor we can't comprehend. But so it is.

Blessed by the name of the LORD!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Unself Esteem


Self-esteem we know about. Diagnosis and cure surround us. The diagnosis: we think badly about ourselves because we weren't affirmed as a child. In fact, we were put down: "You'll never amount to anything." "B's & C's aren't A's!" "Why can't you be like Bob or Sally?"

Feelings of inferiority and issues of self-esteem are common to all of us. We all feel inadequate from time to time, no matter how well we try and disguise it.

And to prove our significance to those who "put us down" or made our lives hell trying to live up to false expectations, we develop defenses: "I'll show you!" We spend our lives being either the best or the worst to counter those who hurt us.

An interesting statistic might be how many millionaires, professional athletes, PhD's, ministers, missionaries, elders, deacons, CEO's, authors, politicians, professionals and criminals achieve success to prove their worth -- "I"ll show you." We are what we are; we do what we do to prove that we're better or worse than anyone thought we could ever be.

Our defense against feelings of inferiority usually lead us to lives of "proving something"--lives lived in bondage to Self.

God offers another way: unself-esteem. It's not hyper spirituality. It's not self-pity. It's not worm theology. It 's not false modesty. Rather, it involves an honest acceptance of our real identity in Christ.

Paul expressed his unself-esteem with his autobiographical statement: "I am the least important of all God's people" (Ephesians 3:8). Then he taught us how this happens through our new identity in Christ: "Let the Spirit change your way of thinking and make you into a new person" (Ephesians 4:23,24).

Self-esteem often turns inward. Unself-esteem turns outward. Self-esteem quickly becomes self-exalting. Unself-esteem releases us into a free life of Christ-exalting.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Warriors of Freedom


Days like today we find ways to show our gratitude to men and women who cared enough to offer the "supreme sacrifice" to protect and defend those they loved in a less than perfect world.

Wars and rumored wars -- nation fighting nation, government fighting government, whole sections of the world at war -- is sad, but routine history. War writes its own commentary on who we are, what we value, what we're willing to defend, sacrifice, and die for.

War is the great divide in the human family.

To what degree war is just and to what degree war is politics (a mixture of both?), I'll leave to the philosophers. War can be necessary -- even a necessary evil, but necessary nonetheless. War can be political -- a fight motivated by egotism dressed up as justice. But whatever the motive, noble or ignoble, war comes at a high price and a heavy cost: human life.

War, like a strong thunderstorm, clears the atmosphere, but only temporarily. Because war often changes circumstances but never changes human nature. The circumstantial results of war may last for centuries, yet human hearts filled with hate, prejudice, greed, bitterness, revenge, lust for power, sense of superiority that inflamed war remain untouched.

War humbles us. We're faced with the fact that, at best, we're deeply flawed humans living in a deeply flawed world.

"Father, bless those now serving in Harm's Way. God of compassion and mercy, you know us, everything about us. You know our sins and transgressions. But you desire that we know you. May we use our freedom that was won at great sacrifice to know you and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Amen."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Clouded Truth


The prophet Isaiah received a hard word from God: "Go and tell this people: 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10). A tough word, an even tougher assignment.

Can it be true that God clouds the truth from certain people? Does God want to keep certain outsiders outside?
Unless you think this is merely an example of Old Testament cruelty, Jesus quoted the same words in the gospels of Matthew and Mark when he told the parable of the seed and the ground.

Isaiah was surrounded by false prophets preaching a false message. They were soft on sin and long on affirmation. They told people what they wanted to hear: "Everyone makes a mistake or two; don't worry about it; you're too good to worry about a misstep here or there." Isaiah cut across their 'feel good' message with sin-revealing truth and a call to serious repentance. Who wants to hear that kind of message?

So God clouded the truth from those who didn't want the truth. He affirmed the deliberately disobedient in their disobedience and the rebellious in their rebellion. Papa-God hid revelation from the people who despised revelation. He allowed anyone who chose to be outside of grace to stay outside of grace. He allowed outsiders to remain outside.

Jesus quoted this passage because he knew that most of the people who heard his call to repentance didn't believe they needed to repent. And Jesus also knew that most of them didn't believe Jesus to be who he says he is -- God's Son. They were indifferent both to the message of truth and the messenger who is Truth.

Therefore, God clouded the truth and kept them outside of grace.

Is that fair?

It's want they wanted. It was the destiny of their own making. And it's a warning to us all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Life's Pooping Machines


Life doesn't always turn out the way we want it to. Along our journey, we step into some poop every now and then.

Golf is my hobby. In recent years, most golf courses have been plagued with Canada "pooping machines" better known as Canada geese. These winged invaders from the north have the audacity to hang around tee boxes and greens where they leave their unsightly calling cards -- geese poop, the size of a small dog's poop.

In addition to this insult, these uninvited aliens are, of course, federally protected.

Most of U.S. presidents have played golf. The present occupant of the oval office is no exception. In fact, he may have set a presidential record for playing more golf in his short time in office than any of his predecessors. I have no clue how he deals with the poop-problem, but it wouldn't surprise me if the secret service or some other tax-paid official picks up the geese poop before the chief executive walks to the first tee.

Golf isn't so pristine for the average Joe or Charles. We step in it, over it, or around it. Goose poop is annoying. It has however made me thankful that North Carolina (where I play most) has reintroduced coyotes to our habitat. I saw a healthy coyote run across a fairway about 30 yards ahead of me a few weeks ago heading for a flock of geese. It was a beautiful sight. One only hopes these swift scavengers develop a healthy appetite for goose!

All you animal rights folks, hold on to your leashes. The coyote solution is nature at its best work! Let creation balance itself out.

Have a great day. Play some golf or take a walk outside, pray for the coyotes and watch where your step.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Anxiety and Despair


Cast all your care upon God.

Easier said than done.

God invites us to cast all care away; if we don't cast it away, we retain it and remain anxious and despondent. And if we don't cast our concerns, troubles, and worries fully upon Papa-God, but in some other direction, we are not rid of them.

When we try to handle what we're not made to handle, our care doubles back on us with greater intensity. Now, we're really in the dumps.

To cast our care in any direction other than upon God is denial. And denial is a defective remedy.

Let God do what He does best -- take our overbearing load, handle what we cannot handle, shoulder our worries, troubles, and concerns. Is anything too difficult for Him?

Please don't take another step under your heartbreaking load. Throw all of it upon your God and receive His peace.

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you -- I Peter 5:7.

Get In The Story!



God's Word comes to us as story -- not myth or fiction -- but real-life story. Too often we read God's Story in fragments, a verse here, a verse there, a paragraph here, a chapter there. The smaller the fragment the easier it is to lose the Story.

God's Word is a huge story told by the Spirit through human authors using preaching, prophecy, poetry, parable, narrative, genealogy, wisdom, prayer. And this huge story has one purpose: God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ.

So when you read God's Story make sure you allow the Spirit to pull you into it. Don't just read to get information or to find a "word" to meet your need for the moment. Allow the Spirit to tell you God's story. Be sure that you not only get the story, but that you get in the story.

It's a story of Papa-God's great love, mercy, and grace. Outside of grace, we are living corpses -- "dead in our trespasses and sins." Without hope. Unable to change ourselves. Insensitive and unresponsive to God. The walking-dead. Sure, we're full of good intentions, but we're also sin-driven.

We cannot over exaggerate what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. God ...
  • Blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Jesus
  • Made us holy, blameless, and covered us with His love
  • Adopted us into His family
  • Removed all our sins
  • Brought us under Christ's headship
  • Chose and predestined us according to His perfect will
  • Sealed us by the Holy Spirit
  • Raised up with Christ in glory
  • Saved by grace through faith
  • Fashioned us into His personal work of art.

Thank you, Papa-God, for your great story of lavish grace!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Double Honor



"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (I Timothy 5:17). "Elder" may or may not be a term used in your church but it refers to spiritual leaders who are responsible for the general supervision of Papa's kids. And among those leaders, Paul highlights the leaders "whose work is preaching and teaching" -- preaching-teaching pastors.

"Double honor" means their work of preaching-teaching is appreciated and valued -- valued enough that they are compensated for it. However, in our society, the quarterback of a NFL team is more likely to receive "double honor" than the preaching-teaching pastor of a local church.

Diligent, disciplined, studied, prepared, gifted, anointed preacher-teachers have a short shelf-life in most churches. Their work is appreciated as long as the bottom line is met and the church is successful. But if a glitch interrupts the finances and/or attendance, the preacher-teacher becomes disposable goods. "Enough teaching. We need someone new." Which implies that we as a church have exhausted the depths of God's truth; that we know the Father as well as we want to. Therefore, we trade spiritual formation for a spiritual fix.

Paul doesn't suggest that we put hardworking preacher-teachers on a pedestal, exalt spiritual leaders, or bow in their presence. That's nonsense. Rather, Paul teaches us to honor the gift of God in a hardworking preacher-teacher. It is the gift that is worthy of double honor. It is the gift that provides spiritual meat and coaches the family of God out of infancy into spiritual maturity.

Most gifted preacher-teachers work out of a deep sense call. "Double honor" means we appreciate, value, and reward the grace of God poured out on us through the diligent work of preacher-teachers.

If we honor the gift, we honor the Giver. But if we dishonor the gift, we dishonor the Giver.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We're On The Same Road




From a human standpoint, we all walk the same road. If the road is life, then the road is the road.

However, from a spiritual viewpoint there are two distinctly different roads leading in different directions. The wide road is heavily traveled and ends in destruction. The narrow road is sparsely traveled and ends in life.

The question is how do we walk the road? Jesus said that two people can sleep in the same bed -- yet one is saved, the other lost. Two people can attend the same church -- yet one goes home saved, the other is lost. Two people can recite the same creed, give sacrificially, keep the same rules, go through the same rituals -- yet one knows God, the other does not.

How can this happen? It happens because it matters how we walk the road.

In his story, "The Good Neighbor," Jesus talked about a road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Five different people traveled that road. The first person was a innocent traveler who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The second the thug or thugs who attacked the man. The third a priest who looked the other way and kept walking. Followed by a Levite who mimicked the priest's actions. The last man, a half-breed, stopped and had mercy on the victim.

Five people walked the same road. What made the difference? It wasn't the road. The difference was how each person walked the road. The traveler was minding his own business. The robber was on the prowl. The priest and the Levite were too pious, too proud, too callus, too indifferent, and too afraid to get involved. Yet the Samaritan -- a social-religious outsider -- showed Papa-God's mercy.

Five people walked the same road, only one demonstrated salvation-mercy.

How do you walk the road?

What's Going On?


Daniel prophesied the literal reign of God on the earth: "And in the days of the kings the God will heaven will set up kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).

Daniel saw through time to a moment in human experience when God's kingdom will displace every rival kingdom and crush the proud sovereignty of human rule. God alone will be King.

If that's true, then what's going on? Human governments still rule the earth. They call the shots, make the rules, enforce the law. Not unlike the time when Roman legions captured Jerusalem and ruled the world. It was a time when Jews believed that sovereignty belongs to God alone, therefore, the Romans were unwelcome intruders.

No wonder John the Baptizer sent his disciples to Jesus with this question: "How could Jesus bring the kingdom of God while sinful Rome remains in power?" Jesus answered, "Blessed is he who takes no offense in me." What he meant is this: The kingdom of God is here now, but instead of instead of overthrowing political kingdoms, it is overthrowing the rule of sin and Satan as it transforms the inner lives of men and women.

So, what's going on? The kingdom of God comes in two stages. Presently, God's kingdom has come quietly, unobtrusively, secretly. It works in the souls of people without calling attention to itself. The gospel of the kingdom is an offer that may be accepted or rejected. It comes with quiet persuasion not loud coercion.

However, stage two is on the way. In God's good time, at the end of the age, God will invade human history. This time He will not come quietly, but in power and great glory. God will smash every rival, destroy every political force, purge all sin and evil from the earth. And God alone will rule and reign.

That's what's going on.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Our New Trinity


A new trinity? That's right. We've created a new Trinity. Not that we completely discarded the old one -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rather, we moved the traditional Trinity down the list in favor of our new one -- Needs, Wants, and Feelings.

On Sundays or church-days, we dress up our new Trinity as Holy Wants, Holy Needs, and Holy Feelings.

We've replaced the Three-In-One God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- with our three-in-one god: My Holy Wants, My Holy Needs, and My Holy Feelings.

The replacement doesn't shock you does it? It shouldn't because from birth we've been trained to choose for what is best for us. We rumble through our lives choosing what breakfast food we'll eat, what clothes we'll wear, what schools we'll attend, what sports we'll play, what hobbies we'll develop, what careers we'll pursue, what cars we'll drive, what image we want to present, what kind of people we want to associate with, who we'll date, who we'll marry, and what church we'll join. Life is our choice.

It doesn't take long for our self-choosing lifestyle to lead us to assume that whatever we need, want, and feel forms the core of who we are. We live self-driven lives. And the more we practice it, the better we become at it. I quickly convince myself that my needs are non-negotiable; my wants determine the size of my kingdom; my feelings express who I am. Needs, wants, and feelings form the New Trinity of my sovereign-self.

Don't get me wrong. I drag out the Old Trinity when I need God to do something for me. The Old Trinity comes in handy in church when I want others to know just how committed I am. It also helps when I pray for God to meet my needs, make me successful, and keep me happy.

But no matter what I'm doing, I'm never too far away from supporting the sovereignty of self. The lure of installing self at the center of my life is too attractive to pass up. Of course, the danger is that in so doing I miss God altogether.

No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). I cannot worship two gods at once. There can only be one Trinity in my life. It's my choice. What will I choose? Needs, wants, feelings or Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Religious Silliness


In a world awash in religious silliness we need to be jolted back to spiritual reality. Paul shared this concern for the Corinthian church. "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).

We drift off course and don't notice it. We get over-committed and over-involved in good but lesser projects. We run in circles. We go through the same religious-motion Sunday after Sunday. Yet if we dare to take a hard look at ourselves little or nothing changes. We're the same.

We put up with religious silliness from preachers, church leaders, and fellow believers ---the ones who lead the worship, preach the sermons, teach the classes, pray, minister at the altar. Immaturity spreads like a virus. And we pretend that we're immune.

We've over-complicated Christianity. We've lost our sense of "one thing." We've been deceived; we've deceived ourselves. We've walked off -- one step at a time, one misdirection after another, one wrong turn here, another wrong turn there -- from the simplicity and purity of our devotion to Jesus Christ.

What else matters?
What else is worth our time and commitment?
How long will we stay deceived?
When does a lion stop looking like a lion? When does a Christian stop looking like a Christian?
How do we get back to reality?
We could at least be truthful before God and admit our silliness instead of redefining our religion.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Let's Grow Up


A perceptive person observed, "The church is better at getting people saved than teaching them how to live saved lives."

True.

We enter our life with God through grace and by faith in Jesus Christ but too often remain as we entered spiritual -- infants. We don't grow up. There is little evidence of spiritual formation in our lives. Therefore, we become preoccupied with religious activities, or play follow-the-leader even when the leader goes in the wrong direction, or substitute ritual for relationship.

Paul spells out the way spiritual formation works in the middle of his letter to the church at Ephesus: Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1). Two words catch our attention: "walk" and "calling." Spiritual formation involves that we recognize that God does the calling; we do the walking. Another significant word is "worthy." It's a picture word. "Worthy" represents the midpoint of an old fashioned set of scales where two weights are balanced on one midpoint.

Spiritual formation, therefore, is not a balancing act, but the point at which God's calling and our walking come together to His glory and honor. Spiritual formation ("growing up into Jesus") is not a static life but a life lived in responsiveness to God's word and God's Spirit. The way we respond to God's call (his direction, his word, his summons) determines the way we 'walk' (live).

Calling is how we get a person's attention. God "called" Adam in the Garden. God "called" Abraham; Jesus "called" his disciples. In the same way, God calls you. And we either respond or ignore his call. If we respond, we respond to a Person, not a concept.

Spiritual formation happens Person to person. God to you. God to me. Spirit to spirit. The Holy Spirit to your spirit. The Holy Spirit to my spirit. It is a life-long journey, a deepening relationship that continues from our spiritual new birth all through life. It happens every day.

When it happens we grow up into Christ. His life is formed in us. We mature. When spiritual formation doesn't happen we remain infants, spiritually immature. God calls; we walk. And the result is a life worthy of His grace.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guilt


Have you ever said, "I went ______ (to church, to visit someone, to a civic club meeting ... you fill in the blank) because I felt guilty?"

Is guilt a good thing?

Not necessarily.

There are two type of guilt: healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt. Healthy guilt comes from an objective reality -- I lied or cheated. I was envious, greedy, selfish, mean-spirited. Healthy guilt comes from the sin or sins I've committed.

Unhealthy guilt comes from feelings of "ought's," or "have-to's." Feelings of inadequacy, rejections, pain, insecurity, and fear -- feeling like a failure. Destructive guilt rides in on the tide of our low opinion of ourselves.

Unhealthy guilt entices us to make wrong choices. We do what we don't want to do. We fake our way through life and relationships. We say things we don't mean to people who don't want to hear them.

On the other hand, healthy guilt leads us to Jesus. It leads us to forgiveness, love, acceptance, and freedom. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Unhealthy guilt ("worldly sorrow") turns me in on myself. I'm no good. What will people think about me? I'm a failure. I'll never change. Healthy guilt ("godly sorrow") focuses on Papa-God: Father, I've offended you. I own my sin. thank you for your mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Thank you for accepting me and restoring me to wholeness. Thank you for your patience. Please continue to form me into the image of your son, Jesus. In His name. Amen.

Healthy guilt releases me to confess my sin to God, claim his gracious forgiveness, and then move on to serve him, worship him, and enjoy his presence.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fixed Or Formed?


Modern Christianity runs the danger of promoting a gospel that emphasises being 'fixed' by Jesus rather than 'growing' in Jesus. Our spirituality has taken on the language of psychology. We want to find ourselves, release the potential of our human spirit, center our core being, reach our potential, and be the best we can be. Sounds great.

But it's a me-centered spirituality sprinkled with God-words which puts me at the center and God at the circumference.

Our churches are full of Narcissus' on their knees instead of Davids' thirsting for God. And what makes this whole attitude even more foolish is that most of us think this is the way it's suppose to be. It's not!

It's not even close.

Paul understood with razor sharp clarity the essence of spiritual formation. "I urge you to live life worthy of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1). The Greek word "worthy" was also used to describe the balance point between a pair of scales. It is the point of tension where the scales will either balance or tip to one side of the other.

Therefore, when we hide behind "God-words" and avoid dealing with God, we live unworthy, off-centered lives. When we substitute religious ritual for a dynamic relationship with the living Christ, we live unworthy, off-centered lives.

True spirituality is learning to discern what either assists or impairs our growth in Christ. Do we even know?

Once we learn about spiritual formation, we won't do it perfectly, but we will do it better than we're doing now. It's not a method, a list, or a set of principles. Spiritual growth happens little by little as we open our spirit to God's Spirit. Spiritual formation is not a list of chores; it is spirit to Spirit.

So, we have a choice: spiritual formation or spiritual deformation. To live worthily or not. God won't coerce us. He invites us to walk the Jesus way. But the decision is ours.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Don't Need No More Troubles


"War: We Don't Need No More Troubles" is more than a song title, it's the cry of the human heart. We want to be at rest. Enough fighting. Enough hurting. Enough hatred. Enough bitterness. Enough killing. Give us peace!

We sing about peace; we hope and pray for peace; we promote peace, but for every baby step we take forward, we take a giant step backwards.

Chasing peace is like running in circles. We work up a sweat but make no progress. So, we run faster. Only to cover the same ground over and over and over again.

God accused prophets and priests of offering false peace --"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14). A false promise. A counterfeit offer. Pretense instead of substance.

Can we achieve peace apart from the Prince of Peace?

Is lasting peace the product of the human spirit or the God of Peace?

Human history indicates we've failed at achieving a sustaining peace. Sure, we catch a glimpse of peace, but a sustaining peace stays out of our reach.

Only when the Prince of Peace reigns in our souls can we experience lasting peace and "pass his peace" on to one another.






Standeth God Within the Shadows


What does this mean: "Standeth God within the shadows"? Is God really an absentee landlord only glancing our way from time to time. Disinterested. Out of touch. Out of reach. A curious onlooker who won't be bothered to get involved.

Has God deserted us? Or has he made a strategic retreat to provide us the opportunity to prove our loyalty to him? Maybe God is out of sight but not out of touch.

There is a reason we're not hauled into heaven and put in a kindergarten next to the throne room. We've been forced into freedom. We are under God's eye but not his thumb. We're not treated like helpless infants but like growing adolescents.

We're not orphans: "The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left--feeling abandoned, bereft. So, don't be upset. Don't be distraught" (John 14:25-27).

We have the gift of God's Spirit. He is here. Now. Within. We don't have to search for him, shout for him to come, or beg for his attention. The Spirit is closer than our breath. He lives within us at the spiritual center of who we are.

What a magnificent gift!

We're not alone anymore. We don't have to figure everything out for ourselves; we have the Spirit's counsel. We don't have to live in the puny energy of human nature; we are empowered by His presence, graced by His gifts, and changed by His character.

Sure, at times it seems as if God "standeth within the shadows" but even there he is only a prayer away.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


"Two men went to the temple to pray." With that Jesus told a simple but profound life-story. His story began with what the two men had in common: a desire to stand in the presence of God.

That's a good thing. Not a common thing, but a good thing. It's good to pray; it's good to go to Papa-God's House to pray.

But their similarity ends there.

One man prays out of desperation. He can't even look heavenward. The other man prays with arrogant confidence. His prayer is a recital of his spiritual accomplishments. The desperate man doesn't feel worthy to be there. The arrogant man feels it is his duty to be there.

What motivates you to pray?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Suffering


"Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he learned obedience by what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Not one of my favorite verses. Why? Because it seems to imply that if Jesus learned to obey God through suffering, then I have to learn to obey God the same way. I don't want to suffer. I don't like pain. There's got to be another way.

What kind of suffering produces obedience? Jesus wasn't sick. He enjoyed good health. So he didn't suffer from migraines, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease or a multitude of other physical ailments that cause pain. He wasn't mentally ill. So Jesus didn't suffer the emotional pain of schizophrenia, manic depression, paranoia, or a thousand other psychoses.

Therefore, it's fair to conclude that the suffering that produces obedience isn't the general physical and/or emotional sufferings of humankind. Then how did Jesus suffer? He was misunderstood, rejected, mocked, ridiculed, ignored, slandered, cast aside by society. Ultimately, Jesus was tortured then murdered by crucifixion. He suffered for righteousness sake, for the sake of the Papa's kingdom, and in obedience to Papa's will. As a lamb led to the slaughter, so Jesus suffered these indignities and death itself willingly, without resistance.

This is the suffering that produces obedience. Think of it this way. When I'm sick I go see my doctor. He examines me, makes a diagnosis, prescribes medicine, treatment, or a procedure of some sort. I follow his instructions and I'm healthy again. This course of action is generally accepted in our country. There is no reproach attached to seeking medical advice when one is sick.

However, when I follow the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, I attach myself to one who was "despised, rejected" by humankind. My relationship with him makes me an object of suspicion, rejection, even persecution. He warned us: "I've told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he's doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood he Father. I've told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you'll be well warned and ready for them" (John 16:1-3).

It is to this suffering the writer of Hebrews speaks. It is this kind of suffering that produces obedience to God. Will I remain obedient when pressured to defect? When persecution comes when I obey God or man?

To willingly suffer on account of the Word and for the sake of righteousness is how Jesus suffered. This is the suffering that teaches obedience.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One Heavy Load


"I believe that guilt is some of our heaviest baggage. It weighs us down even more than bad luck, sorrows or worries, because there's always the sting of self-reproach connected with it, because it's something that we could help." -- Walter Trobisch.

Guilt sneaks up on us suddenly and then accuses us. It smothers our souls like a dense, noxious fog. We can't breathe. We feel trapped. Our load gets heavier and heavier.

There is only one way to get rid of this heavy load and to chase the suffocating fog away. It is the way of forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from God but it flows in all directions. When we're guilty we must ask for forgiveness: "I'm guilty. I ask for your forgiveness." When others offend us and ask for our forgiveness we must be ready to offer it. It's not easy to forgive completely from the heart. But this kind of forgiveness is necessary to complete the cycle of forgiveness: "Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who trespass against us."

Jesus not only offers us life, he is Life. And he not only offers us forgiveness, he is Forgiveness. Living in forgiveness allows us to leave our baggage behind. We don't have to pull our heavy load of guilt around any longer. Leave your baggage behind! Forgive. Accept forgiveness. Live in forgiveness. Ask for forgiveness when you offend. Offer forgiveness when you're offended. Forgive yourself on the basis of Papa-God's forgiveness.

Live free.

"May kindness and peace be yours from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness. Jesus was the first to conquer death, and his is the ruler of all earthly kings. Christ loves us, and by his blood he set us free from our sins. He lets us rule as kings and serve God his Father as priests. To him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." (Revelation 1:5-6)

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Offense



"And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me" (Matthew 11:6). The word 'offense' means "a stumbling-block, impediment, to see in another what I disapprove of."

Jesus understood that he offended a lot of people--especially the religious crowd. He didn't fit their notion of God.

Who Jesus was, what he said, what he did, how he lived, who he associated with--offended their religious mantra.

Jesus offended their traditions, cozy rituals, God-in-a-box theology, manipulative-control over others, their love affair with money and power. The Offense exposed their hypocrisy, confronted their disobedience, and unraveled their neatly packaged lives.

We've adopted their habits. We try our best to remove the offense from Christianity. We put God back in a box. A highly sophisticated box. But a box nevertheless.

We practice a compatible, bendable Christianity without the possibility of an offense. We preach soft, sweet, self-empowering messages that pretend to represent Christ. We make Jesus reasonable, miracles rational, faith universal, the atonement ritual, sin a mistake, and the Godhead symbolic.

We've figured God out and recreated Christ. We've traded his offense for community, his narrow road for a six lane interstate, his one way for many ways, his moral integrity for moral compromise.

When we take away from Christianity the possibility of offense, when we remove God's righteous judgment on sin and unrepentant sinners, when we annul the necessity of repentance and the call to Christ-like holiness, when we promote what's left as a viable religion, we've not only deceived ourselves, we've deceived our world. We've become peddlers of echos signifying nothing.

Take away the Offense and we'd be more honest to lock the church doors, or better, sell the property and turn it into an amusement park.

No offense... no Christ.

No Christ...no God.

No God...no hope.

It's our call.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy!



It's not uncommon for someone to answer the question, "How are you doing?" with "I'm busy!" And if prodded, the same person rattles off a list of activities, demands, deadlines, chores, tasks, and projects that require his or her full attention.

"I hardly have time to breathe," often follows their recital of the 'things-I-have-to-do' list.

Sometimes they exaggerate their schedule or, at least, its importance in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes not. Either way, the question remains unanswered.

The question is "How are you doing?" not "What are you doing?" Their response tells me something about how they see life.

To the busy-person, life equals activity. And the cliche becomes a rule: "time is money." They "buy" and "save" time, so that they can "spend" it as they wish. They try to make up for "lost" time by "stealing" more. They even talk of "investing" their time.

Time-driven people use other people as a means to extend their own time. "Will you watch my child while I .....?" "Can you be at my kid's school activity while I ...." "I have to leave early because ...." "I can only stay a few minutes, I have to ..." "Sorry I haven't talked to you in weeks, but you have no idea how busy I am."

Busy Bees ignore the foundation of human personhood and spiritual life that both are fundamentally relational. We humans are made to live in communion with Papa-God and our fellow travelers. But busy-people who regard only the task and the clock end up building distorted relationships--with God and others.

For them, life is activity. They push as much into the time they have as possible. They do more, consume more, work more, attend more meetings, tackle more deadlines. Do they have the time to find out what's going on with someone else or to let someone in on what's going on inside of them? No. They're too busy!

Busy-people seldom spend unhurried time ('Sabbath-rest-time') with God or family members. They're the "elder son" in the story of the prodigal. They do the right thing, manage the family business, work hard, and fill every empty moment with something urgent. Their personal calenders are crammed with "must-do," "have-to-do," or "ought-to-do" activities. It makes them feel needed and important.

Yet busy-people ignore what is most important--Papa-God and family members. All Papa wants is for them to stop by on our way to work and have a cup of coffee with him. Check in from time to time. Talk. Laugh. Share the stuff of life. But substantive relationships seldom make an appearance on the busy-person's calendar.

Why?

Busy-people are preoccupied with their own importance and mastered by their own schedules. They exchange the lasting for the temporal, the depths for the shallows, real gold for fools gold. achievements for relationships, and saddest of all, rushed moments for sacred moments.

If a quality life equals a full calendar, busy-people graduate magna-cum-laude. If a quality life equals substantive relationships with God and others, busy-people fail miserably.

Which is it?








Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Off Balance



Do you ever feel like God enjoys keeping us off balance?

It has to do with expectations. We all have them. And if we've lived longer than a day or two, we've discovered that life doesn't always match up to our expectations. Things don't turn out like we thought they would.

Relationships birthed in the sheer enjoyment of just being together, hanging out, talking, playing a common sport or sharing a common hobby dwindle to a quick text, a short email, and a Christmas card.

Marriages begun in passion, spending big chunks of time together, talking, sharing life-experiences sink to a few grunts, begrudging signs of affection, and more silence than communication.

Careers blasted off like rockets sputter to an abrupt halt. Dreams vanish in a thick fog of just-trying-to-get-by. It almost makes us not want to hope.

But the reverse is also true. Life can be flooded with unexpected blessing in an instant. It's the surprise of good things. Remember Abraham and Sara? They settled for a life without children. No giggles, baby-talk, first steps. No heritage. Then God showed up and announced, "It's a boy!"

God likes to keep us off balance.

"We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God's purpose prevails" (Proverbs 19:21). While we're planning our next step, God is busy redesigning the map.

Enjoy the ride. No telling what's around the next corner!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lost


Lost: One planet with some people still on it. Lost: One child left in confusion, one woman raped of sanctity, one man castrated of manhood. Lost: One adult deaf to hope. Lost: One generation lacking moral justice. Lost: One society gulping down gallons of self-tranquilizing propaganda -- "we can have something for nothing." Lost: Leaders clawing one another to death in their lust for power. Lost: Huge segments of society carried off by rip currents of relativism. Lost: Freedom mauled by political predators, redefined by social architects, negated by power brokers. Lost: Substantive relationships with people and God. Lost: People somewhere east of hell. Lost: Common sense, personal significance. Lost: Our way and our God.

Lost: Not moments of disorientation that can be corrected by a GPS, but a life-condition that we can't correct by ourselves. We've drifted into treacherous waters, currents stronger than we are. We're lost and we can't get back to shore.

Lost as a life-condition is terminal. Every way is the wrong way. Every turn the wrong turn. Every step takes us deeper into the black forest. We're confused, angry, afraid, out of sorts. We should know better but we don't. We should be able to find our way home but we can't. We've lost our innocence, our faith, our direction, our center, our sense, our God.

There is One who waits for our return. "... there is one bell that rings above all the tinkling cymbals." It is the voice of a Waiting Father. His voice never ceases to sound. For the lost, His is a voice of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Follow the voice home. Kneel at His feet. Repent. "Father, I have sinned against you."

Fall into His forgiving arms.

And the lost is lost no more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Toad's Can't Talk ... Can They?


As I meandered down a dirt road sulking about my uselessness, I saw a huge toad sitting beside a small pond. It wasn't the first toad I'd seen; I glanced at it and kept walking.

That's when it happened. A deep, small voice called out, "Come back here." I turned around. The command seemed to be coming from the toad. But toad's can't talk ... can they? I must be more depressed than I thought!

The small base voice said, "Come closer!" The toad's lips were moving. A talking toad? I'm losing it!

Curiosity got the best of me and I stepped closer to the ugly creature. "What do you want?" I asked. "I'll tell you when I'm good and ready," the toad quipped.

"Whatever you have to say better be good," I retorted. "And you can change your snotty attitude or I'll stomp you into the ground."

"Take it easy big fella," the toad said. "It's too hot to get all worked up."

"You're right. But I don't like toads and you're at the top of my list. Speak up. What's on your pea-sized mind?"

"Do you believe God created me?" the toad asked. "Sure," I said. "But only God knows why. You're ugly as sin."

The toad ignored my insult. "Did God create you?" "Absolutely! I'm created in His image."

"Good for you," the toad continued. "One more question: Why did God create me?" The toad's penetrating stare unnerved me. This ugly little creature was dead serious.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know why God created you. And frankly, at this moment, I don't give a damn." I turned to walk off.

"God created me," the toad said, "to live out my short life in the confines of this pond, to reproduce, and to eat bugs. Flies are fat, juicy, and tasty this time of year."

"So, you are an amphibian fly-eater?"

"Something like that, but that's not all. God also created me to make you look good."

"Really? How's that?"

"Pick me up," commanded the toad. "Go ahead sissy. You won't get warts." I should have stomped the arrogant toad, but I picked it up.

"Take a good look at me. I was created to do what I do and that's it. But I can't do a fraction of what you do. I'm a brownish-green, bumpy, creature with powerful legs -- which some of your fellow humans find tasty -- a long, sticky tongue, a loud croak, and an veracious appetite for bugs. That's all I'll ever be. But not you. There are few limits to what you can be. God made you the crown of his creation. So, when you feel insignificant, get down on yourself, or feel worthless, think about me."

As I put the toad down and watched him hop into the cool waters of the little pond, I remembered David's words from Psalm 8 -- "What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (angels) and crowned him with glory and honor."

But toads can't talk ... can they?




Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What No One Else Knows


God knows what no one else knows. He knows every secret thought I keep locked up in my soul's safety deposit box.

Thoughts I keep to myself. Thoughts I don't tell my best friend. Thoughts that haunt me. Thoughts that encourage me. Thoughts I despise. Thoughts I enjoy. Thoughts I accept or deny. Thoughts of defeat and success. Dark thoughts. Light thoughts. Good thoughts. Bad thoughts.

Whatever else these thoughts are, they are my thoughts.

No one knows my secret thoughts. No one except God -- "He knows the secrets of the heart" (Psalm 44:21). How? God knows everything about everything. Is there anything that God does not know? Nothing exists outside His knowledge, understanding, or intelligence. No thought hides from God.

Psalm 139 expands this truth: "I'm an open book to You, even from a distance, You know what I'm thinking ... You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence."

Can I keep my thoughts secret from other people? Yes. Can I keep even one thought secret from God? No. God's Spirit fills all time and space -- I'm never out of His earshot or out of His sight.

What do I do with my secret thoughts? I follow David's lead: "Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

My secrets are no secret to Him. Yet Papa-God loves me enough to invite me to open-up and come clean. Do I trust Him enough to tell everything to Him? He loves me enough to listen, understand, correct, forgive, and secure me in my journey toward eternity with Him.

God knows what no one else knows.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Diversity???



I received a complaint about the tone of a Christian alumni newsletter. The person suggested that the tone of the newsletter was too bias, too Christian, too conservative. She further suggested that in the future the newsletter should reflect the diversity of the alumni in their opinions, beliefs or lack thereof, and lifestyles.

Diversity sounds right. It makes sense. It seems fair, the right thing to do. Yet it doesn't settle well with me--like eating a meal of bad fish that looks delicious.

So, what about "diversity" as a life-philosophy? We humans are without a doubt a diverse bunch. Ethnic, cultural, educational, political, religious diversity describes the world as we know it. But here's what I think. The real issue behind diversity as a life-philosophy is relativism. Reduced to its basic thesis, diversity means: "anything goes and everything is acceptable." No rules. Few boundaries. Furthermore, this life-view implies those who are not "open minded" are narrow-eyed bigots and intellectual-snails.

Diversity promotes a broadminded, inclusive, gracious, live-and-let-live attitude. When dressed in Christian clothes, diversity appears caring and compassionate. What is wrong with that?

Nothing ... until we meet God.

Then the rub comes. God reveals himself as the One and Only God -- there is one God and no god but God. God is absolute. This alone sets God in direct opposition to diversity as a life-view.

If God is absolute, then obedience to this absolute God must include a refusal to accept anyone or anything that threatens to usurp God -- his place, authority, person, character, or truth. Therefore, diversity as a life-view (even when it's promoted by the church and/or society) is a dangerous form of idolatry that dares to slap God in the face.

Diversity as a life-view benches God, dilutes truth, and headbutts absolute truth off the playing field. Therefore, people who know and follow an absolute God and choose to live by God's absolute truth become impossible people because God's truth is not "both-and" but "either-or."

With God: it's light or darkness, truth or a lie, right or wrong, real or counterfeit, holy or profane, saved or lost. We can't have it both ways. John was clear about this: "The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (I John 2:4).

"There is one God, there is no god but God, and there is no rest for any people who rely on any god but God. Let God be God."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil


See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil. Wouldn't it be a great world if this worked? All evil banned from our senses No evil in; no evil out.

But it doesn't work. Not even for a little while. We live in an evil world and an evil world lives in us. Evil can't be ignored or hushed like a irritating fly or a screeching sound.

Evil has a life of its own.

Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with evil. We call it sin. The difference between a believer and a non-believer is not that the former no longer sins, but how we each deal with sin. The non-believer may either deny or accept the existence of personal sin. Either way sin is given more power. The non-believing-sinner may deny personal guilt or sink under the weight of personal guilt and despair. In each case, sin reigns.

The believing-sinner has a Savior who delivers him from sin--past, present, and future. The believing-sinner who confesses and repents finds mercy and grace to restore his soiled soul. The believing-sinner finds strength from the Holy Spirit to move God-ward and break free from the tyranny of evil. The believing-sinner no longer punishes himself but receives full pardon from the One who took his punishment for him.

"If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong" (I John 1:8-9).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shortcuts to Holiness


The Church--the family of God, not the building, not the institution--is a Holy Spirit-formed community where God is worshiped, his word is taught, the meal of salvation is shared, relationships are formed, sins are forgiven, mercy is received, and the lives of men and women are shaped into the image of Christ.

But it doesn't take long for those of us who are a part of this community to realize that our Christ-life isn't a finished life but a life in progress. We're slow learners. We hang on to selfish sins. We're unwilling to grow up. We slip back into old habits of disobedience as we look for shortcuts to holiness.

We do this behind masks portraying acceptable levels of spirituality. We keep our hands on the steering wheel of life while trying to manipulate God to bless us. If we dare take a close look at ourselves we see that most of the defects, disorders, and sins rampant in our congregation are the same defects, disorders, and sins running wild in our society. There is little or no discernible difference.

That's why corporate confession of sin should be standard practice when the Christ-Family gathers to worship. "Almighty and merciful Father: We have erred, and stayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone the things that we ought to have done. And we have done those things which we ought not to have done. And there is no health in us. But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare you those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore you those who are penitent, according to you promise declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life. To the glory of your Holy Name. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church).

"Miserable offenders"--yes, indeed! Confession keeps me honest with myself, others, and with God. Confession cleans the slate, restores me to fellowship with Papa-God, and keeps me from the presumptuous sin of self righteousness.

Confess.

Confess often.

There are no shortcuts to holiness.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'm Sorry



Hardly a day goes by before the dirty laundry of a celebrity, politician, CEO, or star is aired. Sooner or later the truth comes out. From Hollywood to the governor's mansion to Wall Street to the church pulpit to the White House the soiled sheets of immorality headline the evening news. No one is exempt.

When the powerful are caught with their pants down it gives us a sense of moral superiority. We're ready to stone them. In public forums and private conversations we dissect their confessions. "I'm sorry. I let people down, especially my family, friends, those who had trust in me. and my supporters." We listen. We watch their body-language. We decide if their confession has merit. "It sounds contrived to me." "He's trying to save his job." "She's working the crowd." "Good PR, but a lame confession."

Soft on our own sins, we quickly condemn the offender who just got caught. Hiding our dirt, we eagerly join the parade to point out the dirt of others. Jesus asked a self-revealing question, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and fail to notice the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7).

Why?

The One who asked the question answered it--"You hypocrite!"

Not the answer we wanted to hear.

We're first class hypocrites! We pounce on sordid tidbits from "tell-all" magazines and "behind-the-scenes" reality shows like starved hyenas chasing crippled rabbits. "Inquiring minds want to know." Their moral failures make us feel better about ourselves. "I wouldn't be caught dead doing that!" "How can anyone sink so low!" "Degenerate!" "They ought to be shot, hung, then electrocuted."

What's the remedy? "Take the plank out of your own eye first, then you can see clearly enough to remove your brother's speck of dust."

Deal with your own dirt. Own your own filth. Humble yourself before God. Echo David's prayer: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When You Find Yourself in Quicksand



Despair is not always obvious. It often goes unnoticed. We've learned to hide our frightening feelings of despair. We, especially Christians, put on a flawless performance in our day-to-day life. After all, no matter how low we're feeling on the inside, the play must go on.

So, to most people we appear just what a Christian ought to be -- emotionally stable -- clam, happy, optimistic, in control. For our performance we're praised and welcome as one of the blessed ones.

To despair is to lose hope. To lose hope is to lose touch with God. To lose touch with God sends us back to despair. We're caught in a self-defeating cycle, a downward spiral, a free fall into the dark night of the soul.

"I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God" (Psalm 69:2-3).

I sink into despair when I recognize no power greater than the power of my problem. Everything is dark and frighteningly fluid. Nothing is solid. Nothing eternal. My sickness, pain, prognosis, failure, bankruptcy, loss, grief, death, upside down or broken world becomes my master. Despair rules my soul.

Like others before me, I cry out for help. "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me." I beg for relief. "Get me out of this miss." "Scatter the dark clouds." "Restore my sanity."

If I'm patient enough to be quiet and listen, Papa-God answers me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). That's where I lost it. I lost touch with the God of grace and the grace of God. That's why I lost it. I looked for a way out, not a way through. I wanted a short cut. God offers me his strength to endure.

I'm no match for despair. But God is. He does what I can't do. He graces me with his peace; he enables me with his power; he gives me a place to stand even with "quicksand under me and swamp water over me," even when I'm going down for the third time.

"I'm hurt and in pain; give me space for healing and mountain air. Let me shout God's name with a praising song, let me tell his greatness in a prayer of thanks" (Psalm 69:29-30, The Message).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

He Weeps As He Whips


Real men cry. Jesus is no exception.

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and your children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you" (Luke 19:41-44).

Deep emotions. Strong words. Broken heart. Blind eyes. Ghastly judgment.

Are his tears for Jerusalem only? I doubt it. Jerusalem was his primary heartbreak, but others have followed. We must be one of them. Like the Jews in Jerusalem, we reject the Prince of God's Peace and ignore God's presence among us. We're no less guilty than the first century Jews.

How then will God respond to our rude indifference? Will Papa-God bless or discipline us? Are we his golden children or his rebellious children? Can we expect the oil of blessing or the rod of discipline?

He weeps as he whips.

My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you. Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Hebrews 12:5-6).

We ask for God's discipline the moment we take control and shut him out of our lives, our churches, our business, our families, our friendships, our goals, our finances, our dreams and desires. When life -- everyday life, spiritual life, church life, work life, recreational life, social life -- becomes more form than content, more ritual than relationship, more mechanics than spirit, more surface than substance, we invite the rod of God's discipline.

He weeps as he whips, but he whips nevertheless.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Nature of Sin


"It is so heartbreaking that Christ, who is the teacher of love, is betrayed with a kiss. Such is is the nature of sin." -- Soren Kierkegaard

Sin isn't always ugly or painful or brutal. Sin can be sensitive, warm, inviting, gracious -- the right thing to do -- the accepted thing to do -- a kiss of welcome -- a kiss of brotherhood --a kiss of friendship.

Sin is most sinful when it conceals itself behind beauty, masks itself behind love, or camouflages itself with friendship. The sin of betrayal is one of the greatest sins we commit against God and each other. Compassion is degraded by betrayal.

Betrayal shatters trust, spoils friendships, destroys marriages, families, and churches. Betrayal spoils everything it touches.

Trust is not a given; it has to be earned. Once earned, trust is the glue that holds relationships together until we are stabbed in the back by the same hand that hugged us, lied about by the same voice that encouraged us, or thrown out like yesterday's newspaper by the same person that endorsed us.

Betrayal crushes trust like a steamroller over a caterpillar.

"Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them, 'The one I kiss is the man, arrest him.' Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' and kissed him. ... Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him." (Matthew 26:48-49,50)

Such is the nature of sin.