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Let me ask you, yeah you who are reading this, I am asking myself too…

What do your beliefs do for you?

Think about what you “believe.”

For you, what does it mean to believe something?

Can you believe an idea and actually do something else?

Does your believing have any influence in the day to day of your life?

Is your belief set so that you can escape the fire of hell and damnation?

Now that your sins are taken care of, does that make you feel better about yourself? Is your gospel about making you feel better after you sin?

Are you now cozy and comfortable reclining on your sofa of ignorance and entertainment as you are entertained eating the elephant out of the room?

You laugh, but at what? Is your meaningless life funny to you? What is really going on here? Do we know what we are doing?

My life is good, you might say, so all is good in the world. Is that true?

God wants to prosper me right? He wants to give me stuff, stuff at the expense of others. Wait a minute.

I take and take and take. Then I say, thanks God for this stuff. You have surely blessed me. Hold on a second.

My prayer is but a laundry list, a grocery list, a honey-do list, and a chore list.

When I get what I want, the job, the car, the spouse, the car, the wardrobe, it must be because I am a good little boy. It must be because I deserve it.

How disillusioned I am. How easy it is to believe my lies. How painless it is to justify how I live.

Do our beliefs merely allow us to separate ourselves from responsibility?

Or do our beliefs set us free, free to live an abundant life?

Is your belief about not dying?

Or is your belief about living a complete life, of beauty, of wholeness, of fullness, of richness?

Do they catapult you into the workplace, into the family home, onto the field, to be an agent of justice, peace, and reconciliation?

Do your beliefs automatically cause you to love others, not as parts and pieces, as labels and stereotypes, but as beautiful creatures whom God intends to make into radiant beings of his perfect love?

Are your beliefs congruent with the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

Or does it even matter to you who he is?

Think about this, a quote from the song ‘Four Word Letter (Part 2)’ by Mewithoutyou…

We hunger, though all we eat brings us little relief

We don’t quite know what else to do

We have all our beliefs

But we don’t want our beliefs

God of peace

We want you

Burn it all down, as Aaron Weiss (the songwriter) says, “why not be utterly changed into fire?”

Jesus will build you up. Have faith. He can handle your questions. He is the great I AM, the alpha, the omega, the beginning and end. Let us all worship him for who he is, not for who we would like him to be. Seek him and you will find him.Amen.

In a mere moment my life was shattered. Who is this god I worship? Holy and pure, righteous and just, is he upset with me? Do I make him happy or disappointed? Is my life good enough to please his holier than though posture, for he judges the world with wrath right? Is it his voice telling me I am not good enough, that I need to do better? What does he say or do to me when my arrows miss the mark? Is he the voice that says repent or go to hell?

Whose face do I see in the mirror? When I see myself standing there, how do I interpret the reflection? Is it shame, disappointment, frustration, anger, rage, the cold shoulder, judgment and even worse condemnation? Am I worthy of standing in the presence of such a god, who with his look manipulates and controls me to do whatever it is he wants? In the presence of this god I feel crushed, chained, and burdened. In his presence I understand myself as a cadet crushed and chained by the power of the system.

This god makes me feel terrible and awful as he shows off his skills to the crowd. This god feels like the parent or boss who yells and screams saying, “I can’t believe you did that! You fool! Don’t you know better? You idiot.” Or maybe it feels like the cold shoulder of disapproval, or even the silent treatment. This god says, “You better shape up or else!” Pressure. Punishment, urgency and hurry are his techniques to get the desired outcomes. “If only you could be good,” he says, “I could do something with you.”

This god likes it better when I am afraid of him. He takes pleasure as I squirm and sweat, trying to be a better person. I walk on eggshells around such a god, hoping I don’t do something to piss him off. He is only on my side when I am doing as he wishes. He cheers me on and shows his love, but only when I score the goal, or make the pass, or keep the ball on the field. His attention is conditional, his affection determined by my performance, and his love contingent on outcomes. Perhaps this is not the true God, the one who formed me in my mother’s womb, the one who knows me by name, and can count the number of hairs on my head. Maybe this god is not God; maybe I have created a god in my own image.

In a moment, my eyes were opened as I saw for the first time the beauty of love. It was like waking after a long dark sleep to a rising sun full of warmth. It was like coming out of a piercing winter of a perpetual absence. It was like digging a pit too deep to climb out and suddenly a finding the hand of a friend to pull me out. You might say it was like carrying a load and suddenly, in a moment, there was no load to carry at all. Perhaps it was like life itself breathed a breath of life power into my soul. The rain fell on dry land.

His rod and his staff, they comforted me. He led me to eat and drink. He led me into the valley of shadow and death, and there he said, “Fear not, I am with you.” He prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies, in the presence of all the lies and perversions of who he is, there he anoints my head with oil and fills my cup till it overflows. Surely his goodness and mercy will follow me, everyday, in every moment. I can rest assured I will dwell in his house forever.

In this moment I speak of, I heard a different voice, a voice that speaks in the silence. A voice that says, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” I said, “But you don’t know me, you don’t understand what I have done, or what I am capable of doing. Obviously you can’t love me. I am unlovable. I am unworthy. I could do better. The voice again said, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” “No it can’t be! I said. “I deserve more punishment. I am not ready. I am still I!” The voice told me again, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

He tells me that I am before I do. Don’t worry, he says. He really does want what is best for me. He is gentle and kind, tender and strong. He is capable of handling my sin. He says, “Ok you missed the mark. I’ll take care of that. Your job is to let it go. Let it out and move forward in becoming the kind of person I can trust to carry out my will, the redemption of the world. Go and be forgiven, and be empowered to live in a response to the reality of such great and unforeseen forgiveness.

Jesus may your love be enough because you said it is so. Amen.

The highest form of knowledge transcends a subjective/objective duality of understanding the world. It rises above the black cloud of confusion between science and religion. Love is realized in its most supreme form when history takes a turn at the beginning of the first century. Love is fulfilled in the life of Jesus, in his life in submission to the Father, empowered by the Spirit. And even more love takes its ultimate form when this man takes his love for the world to the cross, to the grave, to the pits of hell itself, and rises after overcoming the world by his love for it.

It is his wisdom that knows humanity is resistant to change and will take up arms to defend them. His wisdom, the wisdom that founded the earth and established the heavens, knows love is the only way to bring shalom (wholeness) into a shattered world. His love for such a world is transcends all other forms of knowing. It is the way of the disciple, as Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have loved one another” (John 13:34-35).

Jesus is the smartest man that ever lived, and still lives; smarter than Einstein and Newton, smarter than Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, smarted than Buddha and Gandhi. All forms of technology and good living fail to sink below the surface of a world in turmoil. Technology cannot save the day. Progress is and can only be fueled by man’s greed to create a world other than God’s world, the one he has given us to care for. Man cannot build an ivory tower high enough to reach immortality. And trying harder cannot get us home either. In vain does the world spread its nets in search of anything that ‘works for me.’ No, do not be fooled by the many gods formed in the furnaces of idolatrous hearts. There is but one God, the God Jesus of Nazareth, who walked among us, and showed us the answers to all of life’s most difficult questions (Who am I and why am I here?). Only by his grace can we become the kinds of people he can trust with the immeasurable weight of his love.

People hurt, we hurt ourselves, we hurt others, and we hurt God. We know it is true.

Violence takes many forms. It is a word here, a silent scowl there. It is throwing punches, with fists, words, actions, and a failure to take action. Violence is the way of insecurity and of weakness. It is anger that takes things into its own hands to get whatever it is that it wants. Violence is man’s way of making right what went wrong.

True strength is not benching 400lbs or squatting 600lbs. True strength is not domination. It is not forceful or manipulative. Manipulation is the way for us to use words and wit to control what we otherwise could not with the sword or gun. Violence insists on its own way, and takes the necessary steps to enforce its particular ideology. Violence starts in the mind or in the heart, where when it takes root it spreads like wildfire in a parched pine forest. Just take a quick look at the media, the election cycle, politics, pop culture and sports. Take a quick ride on the 405. Or even we should take a quick look into our own hearts. Violence is there, waiting to spew forth like the hissing steam from a locomotive.

Violence takes advantage of the situation. Perhaps even to control the way and what people think. It is rooted in a desire to control that which is not built into man’s responsibility. Men and women are not created with a capacity to control other men and women, no matter the age or hierarchical position. Men and women together, humans in community, male and female are to bear God’s image. I alone cannot, you alone cannot, but we together under God’s refuge, we can.We can only when set free by God’s loving kindness to participate as his co-creators, to use our native creative spirit of imagination. I cannot tell you how to be you, and you cannot tell me how to be me. Only God knows the real me. And together in God’s community and under his Law can we then express our individuality, “Community over individual liberty”(Bill Dogterom).

We can bear his image only in a covenant relationship with God, built on the rock of his love for us, his most magnificent creation. It is possible only in a safe place of right living (righteousness) in relation to his commands (to live a kind of life that is best for us as his creation) and worship of the God who says, “I AM.” Surely this is the only safe place to stand. If I stand anywhere else but the rock of His reality, it is all but sand susceptible to the erosion of wind and water. Without a proper place to stand in faith, my life transforms from the hard rock of the mountain into a pile of quick sand.

Jesus responds to the violence on the cross with a friendly forgiveness, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus responds to what man has made wrong with patience and kindness. Jesus lived a life believing that anger does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). On trial with Pilot, Jesus showed us that the Kingdom of God is not a kingdom like that we know all too well, like the kingdom perhaps in the heart of many or even myself.

Who is your god? Is he the God revealed to us in the historical and living person of Jesus? Or is he a god you have fashioned in your own image. A god who is an idol, one that is only a resource for promoting the self-esteem or for giving you what you want? Does this god look at you with frustration, disappointment, or condemnation? There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8)!

Take a look at your god, if it is not like Jesus, then it is perhaps not God at all. I encourage you and myself to look closely at Hebrews 1:3, “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Let’s read and re-read the gospels humbly, assuming we do not know this great God yet like we must. Let’s read and understand Jesus to get him right, not to reinforce our already preconceived formulations. To know Jesus in an intimate relationship of conversation is to know eternal life. By the Spirit can we know and believe such a great and holy God of the universe.

Jesus is the wisdom of the world. He knows how to manage my life better than I do. Jesus know how to ride my bike better than I do, and he will teach me how, if I can get over my arrogance and let him show me. The temptation is to say, “No wait let me try this again, I can ride it I promise, watch me!” And he will let us try and try and try until we give up. By his grace does he enable us to become the kind of people that could not otherwise ride the bike by ourselves. By his grace does he make eternal life possible now, from day to day. Let us repent and believe in the good news that Jesus is here to save us from ourselves and from others and from the violence of the world. He is here to have us partner with him in saving the world by the only means possible, love.

Love is patient it is kind, it does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends!

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