Thursday, December 4, 2014

Un-Manicured Hands

From Max Lucado:
Jesus came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. The hands that first held him were un-manicured, calloused, and dirty. For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. Weak and weary; and afraid of failure. His feelings got hurt.
To think of Jesus in such a light seems almost irreverent. There’s something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant and predictable. But don’t do it! For heaven’s sake, don’t! Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jesus in our Neighborhood Part II


From Max Lucado:
The God of the Universe was born into the poverty of a peasant and spent his first night in the cow’s feed trough. He left the glory of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. Who would have imagined he would do such a thing?
What a world he left. Our classiest mansion would be a tree trunk to him. God became a one-celled embryo and entered the womb of Mary. He became like us. Just look at the places he was willing to go: feed troughs, carpentry shops, badlands, and cemeteries.
The places he went to reach us show how far he will go to touch us. He loves to be with the ones he loves!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jesus Moved into a Bad Neighborhood

From Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  It is an amazing daily prayer book that will change the way you start your day.  You can buy it here or read it online here.

Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighborhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us.

But the gospel calls us to something altogether different. We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves to the stranger.

Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth. 

Wherever we come from, Jesus teaches us that good can happen where we are, even if real-estate agents and politicians aren’t interested in our neighborhoods. Jesus comes from Nazareth, a town from which folks said nothing good could come. He knew suffering from the moment he entered the world as a baby refugee born in the middle of a genocide. Jesus knew poverty and pain until he was tortured and executed on a Roman cross.

This is the Jesus we are called to follow. With his coming we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the suffering of others. Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Having Nothing to Plead


All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God’s. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being “come short of the glory of God,” the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

 --John Wesley
Sermon on Salvation by Faith 
Preached at St. Mary's Oxford
June 18, 1738

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jonah

I love Rob Bell's take on Jonah.  Often we, as Christians in the West, look more like the Pharisees of the New Testament (for whom Jesus had reserved his harshest words) or the Israelites in the Old Testament (who God compared to a wayward prositute) than like what Jesus describes in John 17. 


Rob Bell on Jonah from here:

…Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land…

Tiglath-Pilesar, king of Assyria, came…and deported the people…

Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it…
-from 2 Kings 15 and 18

Invaded.Deported.Laid siege.

Invading is what happens when you raise an army and then march into another country and take it over using force and power and violence.

Deporting is what happens when you capture the inhabitants of said country you’ve invaded and forcibly remove them from their homes and jobs and towns and land and then take them far away.

Laying siege is what happens when you surround a city with your army and in doing this sever the city from its food and water sources so that so many people are starving and suffering and dying that eventually they give up and surrender. 

The Assyrians, in other words, were mean. Nasty, brutish, violent, oppressive-the Assyrians made life miserable for the Israelites. Year after year after year.

It’s during this era in history that a story emerged about a man named Jonah. Jonah was an Israelite. And according to this particular story, Jonah’s God tells Jonah to take a message to the great city Nineveh.

And Nineveh was in…Assyria.

Assyria? Our worst enemy? Those hated infidels who have made life for our people a living hell time and time again? You want me to go into the center of the beast-and do something good for them? Seriously?

Jonah wants nothing of it and so he heads to the nearest port, jumps on a ship, and sails in the opposite direction.

Of course he does.You’d get in a boat, too.

(Side note: Often this story is told in such a way that Jonah’s disobedience is the point of the first part, along the lines of See what happens when we don’t do what God tells us to do? But how do you imagine the first audiences would have reacted to this story when Jonah won’t go to Nineveh? They hated the Assyrians. Would they have focused on his disobedience or would they have cheered him on because they could totally relate?)

So he gets on the boat, a storm comes, there’s a discussion among the crew about the cause of the storm, they determine he’s the problem, they throw him overboard, he’s swallowed by a fish, he prays in the belly of the fish, the fish spits him out, he then goes to Nineveh, the Ninevites are fantastically receptive to his message, and then the story ends with him so depressed he wants to kill himself because of a gourd.
(You can’t make this stuff up.)

There’s so much here, where do I start? We’ll get to the swallowed by a fish part shortly, but first, I’ll start with the sheer strangenessof this story.

You would assume that a story told by Israelites about Assyrians would stick to fairly straightforward categories of good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and evil.  

But the Israelite in this story, the one who supposedly follows God, runs in the opposite direction from God. The word that’s used is flee. Jonah flees. He then ends up on a boat full of “pagan/heathen” sailors who pray

And while they’re praying for the storm to stop Jonah doesn’t pray at all. Jonah sleeps.

The pagan, heathen sailors ask all sorts of questions trying to figure out why this storm has come on them, only to discover that Jonah is the problem, something Jonah knew all along.

And then, when he finally does get to Nineveh, after he’s resisted God again and again, these horrible, mean, nasty Assyrians turn out to be open to God’s message, really open-so open that the king orders 
…Let man and beast be covered in sackcloth.

Sackcloth was what you wore when you were crying out to God, when you were acutely aware of your sins, when you were asking for God’s mercy. The king orders everybody to repent and wear sackcloth-including the animals! 

(Animals repenting? Wha….? A fairly surreal detail, to say the least. One of the many hints that the author has a larger point in mind…a point we’ll get to shortly.)

(Another point about that point: when you read the Bible, embrace the weird parts. Animals wearing sackcloth is weird. Take note of the strange parts because they’re usually there for a reason…)

We’re familiar in the modern world with frameworks that see things in dualistic terms: there are the good people, and then there are the bad people, there is the right thing to do, there is the wrong thing to do, there are the people who need saving, and then there are people who do the saving. 

But in this story the categories are all scrambled. The supposedly righteous Israelite is defiant and lazy and generally prickish (is that a word?) while the supposedly evil and wicked heathens are receptive and open to God’s message for them.

And then, in the end, after Jonah has had a change of heart and he’s seen this massive, miraculous change of heart in the Ninevites right before his eyes, he’s so upset by it that he wants to die.

He says to God I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

And then he adds:
Now LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.

What a bizarre story. 
A story in which none of the characters do what you’d expect them to do. Which raises the questions 
So why did this story survive?What did people find this story important and worth telling and preserving?What does it tell us about how they understand who they are and who God?

Several answers. 
First, this story is about a man, but it’s about a nation. Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh because the Assyrians had treated Israelites horribly. The story asks the question 
Can Jonah forgive the Assyrians?which is really the questionCan Israel forgive the Assyrians?

Jonah is angry at the end,angry that God has been so kind to them.
 Of course Jonah is angry.

When you haven’t forgiven someone who has wronged you and then something good happens to them-when they are blessed or shown mercy or experience favor-it’s infuriating. 

Which leads us to a larger theme of the Bible: According to the story that’s been unfolding up until Jonah gets on a boat, Israel had a calling from early in its history (Genesis 12 to be more precise) to be a light to the world, to show the world the redeeming love of God. 
A calling they haven’t lived up to.

There’s a question, then, that lurks in the story of Jonah:Can you forgive your worst enemy and be a channel through which God’s redeeming love can flow to them?

It’s a question for Jonahbecause it’s the question for Israel.

This is why the book of Jonah doesn’t end with a conclusion or a judgment or details about what Jonah does next.

The book ends with a question, a question God has for Jonah: Should I not be concerned about that great city?

It’s a question for the Jonah character in the story,but at a far more significant level it’s a question the author is asking the audience, an audience who we can only assume would have had many, many personal reasons to answer…
no.

That said, what about the fish part?

Next: What is the Bible? Part 4: Fish#2

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hiding from God's Love?

There are two ways to hide from God’s love – rebellion and religion. Rebellion, illustrated in the prodigal son, defies God’s love and seeks to cover up guilt and shame through the indulgence of sensual desires. Religion, on the other hand, is far more subtle. It seeks its cover-up through good works and obligation. However, like the prodigal’s older brother, it still denies the Father’s place in our lives and leads us no closer to knowing him for who he really is.

Simply, religion is keeping score – striving for acceptance through our own performance whether it be in our good works or in ritualistic activities. Those things put the focus squarely on us and what we can do to be accepted by God, thereby dooming us to failure.

Most of Paul’s letters were written because even the earliest believers found themselves trading relationship for religion. Instead of learning to live in the security of his love, they would go back to traditions, creeds, disciplines, and laws as an attempt to earn it themselves. He reminded them again and again that God’s love would take them further than their own efforts and achievements ever would…

What would you do today if you knew God absolutely loved you?

-----
Wayne Jacobsen

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jesus lives; here’s a toaster.


This is an excerpt from Rob Bell's book called Velvet Elvis.   Some might criticize this quote as being being only about a social gospel and not about spreading the message of Jesus.  I disagree.  Jesus said: "for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'"  It was Jesus who emphasized that a Christian would love others through action and by those works the world would know that we are his.


"Imagine an average street in an average country. Let's imagine person X lives in a house on this street. Next door is a Hindu and on the other side is a Muslim. Across the street is an atheist, next door to them an agnostic, and next door on the other side, someone from Ohio.

Imagine person X becomes a Christian. Let's say she starts living out Jesus' teachings so that she can become a compelling force for good in the world. She is becoming more generous, more compassionate, more forgiving, more loving. Is she becoming a better or worse neighbor? If we are her neighbors, we're thrilled about her new faith. We find ourselves more and more grateful for a neighbor like this. We wish more people would be like this.

Let's make some observations about this street. The good news of Jesus is good news for Person X. It's good news for Person x's neighbors. It's good news for the whole street. It's good news for people who don't believe in Jesus. We have to be really clear about this. The good news for Person X is good news for the whole street. And if it's good news for the whole street, then it's good news for the world.

If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody.

And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the "un" and "non", they work against Jesus' teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody.  We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, "God shows no favoritism" (James 2:1-13). So we don't either.

Oftentimes the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith. So there is an agenda. And when there is an agenda, it isn't really love, is it? It's something else. We have to rediscover love, period. Love that loves because it is what Jesus teaches us to do. We have to surrender our agendas. Because some people aren't going to become Christians like us no matter how hard we push. They just aren't. And at some point we have to commit them to God, trusting that God loves them more than we ever could. I obviously love to talk to people about Jesus and my faith. I'll take every opportunity I can get. But I have learned that when I toss out my agenda and simply love as Jesus teaches me to, I often end up learning more about God than I could have imagined.

I am learning that the church is at its best when it is underground, subversive, and countercultural. It is the quiet, humble, stealth acts that change things. I was just talking to a woman named Michelle who decided to move into the roughest neighborhood in our city to try to help people get out of the cycle of poverty and despair. She was telling me about the kids she is tutoring and the families they come from and how great the needs are. Some other women in our church heard about Michelle and asked her for lists of what exactly the families in her neighborhood need. They then circulated the lists until the found people who could meet every one of the needs. It's like an underground mom-mafia network. Michelle told me at last count they had helped 430 families, and they are making plans to expand their network.

'Jesus lives; here's a toaster.'


These are the kinds of people who change the world. They improvise and adapt and innovate and explore new ways to get things done. They don't make a lot of noise and they don't draw a lot of attention to themselves."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Come Weary. Come Messy.

Great post by Addie Zierman:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
   -Jesus, Matthew 11:28

“The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.”
   - Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life


Come straight from your bed with your morning breath and your sweatpants. Come with your crazy-hair and your unwashed face and last night’s dishes still sitting out on the counter.

Come as soon as the alarm goes off, or after three or four smacks at the Snooze button.

Or maybe morning’s not your thing, but you keep trying to muster yourself up to it because once someone told you that this was the best way. That morning is the best time, that you need to start your day right, with God.  (I want to tell you that there is no best time. There is you – your particular, individual heart – and there is God, his love like a deep-flowing river. And it doesn’t matter when you step into the river, love. All that matters is that you come.)

Come with your mind skittering a thousand different directions. Come with your insurmountable to-do list, and don’t feel a bit guilty when you keep drifting back to the day’s demands. Just notice it, and then make your way back to the quiet.

There will be so many trips back and forth while you’re here…from worry to planning to prayer and then back around again. That’s just part of it.

And maybe you don’t know that. Maybe you’ve heard a hundred sermons about that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed deep and long, and his disciples fell asleep.  You know that verse by heart, where he says “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” and the one that says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

(Here’s what I think about all that: this was never meant as a call to do better, to be better, to come perfect and focused and spiritually “strong”. I think Jesus was simply telling us the truth about ourselves, here in the midnight garden – that thing that we who can handle it all (who don’t need help, thank-you-very-much, who will do it all by ourselves even if it kills us) never truly believe: You are weak. You are weary. It’s okay. I am enough.)

Maybe all this time, you’ve been trying to come perfect, you’ve been trying to come wide-awake when you’re exhausted. Maybe you’ve been trying to work up the faith when your heart is sunk deep in doubt. You don’t have to hustle for approval here. Come weary. 

Come beloved.

Come reluctantly or expectantly. Come half-asleep or half-alive or broken into ten thousand pieces.

Stare blankly into your fluorescent sunlamp in the cold, dark morning and say nothing. Or say everything – rant and rave and whine and cry and bare it all – your whole fearful, jealous, angry heart. Both of these things are a kind of prayer, and neither is better or more honest than the other.

Let your swear monkey out. Say the truth you need to say even if the words sound unholy, unacceptable. There is the time when the four-letter-word is the right word, and God can handle your impolite, your wildness, your temper tantrums, your tears.

Come with a heart stone-cold in its silence. Come bitter. Come distant.

Read the Bible, or don’t. Write it out in a lined journal, or don’t. Read a bit of liturgy and feel yourself connected to a thousand other broken pieces of humanity, all trying to figure it out.

(Or don’t. There is no right way to come. There is only the honesty of showing up entirely yourself in the place you are now.)

Maybe you won’t feel anything. Just the winter dark pressing in and the cold seeping in under the patio door and a weary dread for the mundane tasks of another day. Another week. Another year.

Come anyway.

Come even if you’re not one bit sure about this God business at all. Start here, with these open arms, the ones that are welcoming the weary. Start with a God who invites the imperfect: the mad-at-their-kids. The pissed-at-their-bosses. The one who sits in traffic, feeling a rage she cannot understand. The one who can’t stop crying. The one who’s full to the brim with happiness.

Start with Jesus, who welcomes the overwhelmed. The under-awed. The hopeful. The hopeless.

He is looking at you who don’t have one scrap of it together, and there’s not a how-to or a best-practices – just Him. Just you. Just the river.

Just one word, Come.

The first step. Really, the only step. The one you keep taking every weary, heavy-laden, joyous, hopeful, normal, average, dish-filled, noisy day of your life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rocks in a Backpack

From Steve Brown:

Recently, a friend of mine gave me an illustration by Ron Hutchcraft regarding how some young people in Alaska learn about responsibility. 

Do you know what they do? When a child does something bad, they put a rock in his or her backpack. When they do something good, they take one out. The better they are, the lighter the backpack. On the other hand, the backpack can become really heavy if a child is especially bad.

As I read that, I thought, I've been doing that for most of my life.

There was a time when I thought I could keep even by getting more of the rocks out of the bag than I put in it. That was when I was younger. Those were the days when I thought that if I could just get the rocks out of my backpack I would be a fit and pure vessel for Christ to use. All I had to do was work at it and then, once the task was accomplished, I would see "thousands saved and hundreds healed."

For years I was a rock counter. I spent most of my time checking the backpack. I didn't notice that my legs were getting bowed and my back was bending from the weight. I just kept trying to get the rocks out. I started looking like a worn out cowboy. However, I found that, if you tried really hard, you could keep your back straight so that people wouldn't notice. But, man, it does take a toll trying to hide the fact that the backpack is killing you.

That's when God said:  You know, you don't have to carry that backpack anymore.
 
What do you mean? I thought that was my purpose in life. Don't you want me to be holy and obedient and stuff? This was your idea, not mine.

Wasn't my idea.

Don't you want me to be righteous?

That would be nice, but you're going about it all wrong. I don't know if you've noticed, but the backpack is a lot heavier than it used to be. If getting the rocks out of that backpack is your purpose in life, you're not doing a very good job of it.

But I'm working hard.

I know.

Well?

You don't have to work so hard at it. In fact, you're spending half of your life working on getting those rocks out of the backpack and you're not living anymore. You're missing a lot of really good things I planned for you. I would rather you just came to me. I can take care of the rocks. That is what the cross was about.

You mean that you will take the rocks out of the backpack and make it lighter?

No, I don't want the rocks. I want the backpack.

What? You're joking, right?

No, I'm not joking. I don't joke about something this serious. I don't joke about things that destroy people I love.

But, Lord, I've had this thing a long time. In fact, I've sort of grown accustomed to it. Besides, if I gave you the backpack, how could I measure whether or not I was pleasing you?

I'm already pleased...and it has nothing to do with the rocks or lack of them in your backpack. Tell me, what would you do with your life if you didn't have to spend all of your time working with those rocks?

I'm not sure. Maybe go to a movie or take a day off or something. I might just be quiet and spend more time with you. Maybe even tell some people about your kindness and love. I guess I would even tell them about this conversation.

Then, child, do it with joy...and give the backpack to me.

And that's how I got rid of the backpack...well, almost. The fact is that I sometimes go to the throne and take it back. When I do that, I think God shakes his head and blushes a bit. But I don't keep it very long anymore. It's hard to dance with all that weight.

Paul wrote, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1, NKJV). 

The great thing about not being under condemnation anymore is that the Spirit starts doing his work. In fact, I'll bet if I started carrying that backpack again, it would have less rocks in it than it used to have. Maybe not. But I'm not going to check. He told me I didn't have to.
 
Did you hear the story about the old man with a heavy load in his sack, walking down the road? A farmer came by in his wagon, felt sorry for the old man and gave him a ride. The man climbed up on the wagon and thanked the farmer. Then the farmer noticed that the man still carried the sack.

"Why don't you put that sack down?" asked the farmer. "It's got to be heavy."

"You are so kind," the old man said. "But I wouldn't want to impose on your kindness. You shouldn't have to carry me and the sack."

Silly? Of course it is. But it is no more silly than the way you carry that dumb backpack around with all those rocks. Why don't you just let him carry it all?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A grace within reach of the poorest, lowliest believer.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

“Let us note that our Lord does not name gifts or miracles or intellectual attainments as the evidence of discipleship, but love, the simple grace of love, a grace within reach of the poorest, lowliest believer, as the evidence of disciples
hip. If we have no love, we have no grace, no regeneration, no true Christianity! . . .

Let us note what a heavy condemnation this verse pronounces on sectarianism, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, party-spirit, strife, bitterness, needless controversy between Christian and Christian.

Let us note how far from satisfactory is the state of those who are content with sound doctrinal opinions and orthodox correct views of the Gospel, while in their daily life they give way to ill temper, ill nature, malice, envy, quarreling, squabbling, bickering, surliness, passion, snappish language, and crossness of word and manner. Such persons, whether they know it or not, are daily proclaiming that they are not Christ’s disciples. It is nonsense to talk about justification, and regeneration, and election, and conversion, and the uselessness of works, unless people can see in us practical Christian love.”
        ---J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love. 

---Philip Yancey from What's So Amazing About Grace?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Don't despair.

“Do not fall into despair because of your stumblings, for you should not consider them incurable. There is indeed a healer: he who on the cross asked for mercy on those who were crucifying him, who pardoned murderers as he hung on the cross. Christ came on behalf of sinners, to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up their wounds.”
       --Isaac of Syria
 

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots."--Luke 23:34

Saturday, July 26, 2014

DUI

Dr. Steve Brown tells about a question that his friend Fred Smith would often ask: 
If you were arrested for drunken driving, and the headlines in the newspaper on Saturday said, “So-and-so Arrested for Drunken Driving,” would you go to church on Sunday?
Most people would say, “No,” because they’d be too embarrassed to face their Christian friends.
But isn't church a place to find healing. Fred Smith, who likes to ask this question of people, says it’s stupid not to go to church after you’ve messed up. “It’s sort of like a man who’s hit by an automobile, and he’s got blood all over the place, and his bones are broken, and they try to take him to the hospital, and he says: ‘Wait. I’m a mess. Let me go home and get cleaned up. Let me get these bones set, let me heal, and then I’ll go to the hospital.’”

The problem is too many of us make our churches places of judgment and condemnation; or worse, places where the brokenness is ignored and everybody pretends everything is alright--- instead of being places of healing for broken people.

John Wesley said: “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? Who is He that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief?"

We are all sinners saved by grace.  Let's not hide that fact.  Instead, let us glorify God for the fact that he loves us anyway. 

His grace is sufficient.
It is finished. 
I cannot add one thing. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Personal discipline and self denial. Good News?

Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing… How could the gospel of Christ be truly called “Good News” if God is a righteous judge rewarding the good and punishing the evil? Did Jesus really have to come to reveal that terrifying message? How could the revelation of God in Christ Jesus be accurately called “news” since the old testament carried the same theme, or “good” with the threat of punishment hanging like a dark cloud over the valley of history?
        -Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, pp.18-19

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Free....but much more that just free.

From Tullian Tchvidjian's blog:

During a recent radio interview, the interviewer told me a story that gets to the heart of how grace transforms.

He was a camp counselor one summer and one of his responsibilities was to go around with another counselor and check the cabins every morning while the students were at breakfast. In order to motivate them to keep their cabins clean, awards were given at the morning assembly to the students who had the cleanest cabin. One morning the counselors walked into one of the cabins only to discover that it had been intentionally trashed. The students thought it would be funny to “break the law” and do the exact opposite of what they had been asked to do. Clothes everywhere. Food all over the floor. Words written on the bathroom mirrors with soap. Wet towels balled up in every corner. The place was a complete disaster.

The two counselors were speechless. The one looked at the other and asked, “What should we do?” After pausing for a moment, the guy who was interviewing me finally answered, “Let’s clean it up.” His buddy looked at him like he was crazy: “Clean it up? Are you kidding? These punks need to be punished! I’m not cleaning up their mess.” The other one said, “Well, I’m going to clean it up. And by the time I’m done with it, these kids will win the award today for the cleanest cabin.” After some moaning and groaning, his buddy decided to help him. They cleaned the whole cabin while the students were at breakfast. Picked up and folded all the clothes, scrubbed all the soap off the bathroom mirrors, vacuumed up all the food, made all the beds, and hung all the wet towels up to dry on the clothes line right outside the cabin. Then they left without saying a word to anyone.

When the students came back from breakfast, thinking they had pulled off a great prank, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were the ones who were now speechless. They initially thought they were now going to be in double trouble. They sheepishly made their way to the morning assembly. When the award for the cleanest cabin was announced and they won, they couldn’t believe it. Instead of being punished, they were rewarded. They all found the two counselors who had cleaned up their wrecked room and begged for forgiveness. And, according to the guy who was interviewing me, those boys kept the cleanest cabin for the rest of the week.

What those boys experienced was what theologians call “double-imputation.” Not only did someone else bear their punishment (having to clean up the miserable mess they made) but they were rewarded for someone else’s “righteousness.” As my friend Scotty Smith recently said, “The gospel isn’t merely the absence of all condemnation; it’s also the fullness of God’s delight lavished on us in Christ.”

And notice…the result of this irrational act of grace toward these boys was NOT worse behavior. It was sorrow and transformation. These punks were punk’d by grace…and they would never forget it.

I close my book Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels with a story (not sure if this really happened or is simply parabolic) from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”

With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And to say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, anything.”

“And to be whatever I want to be?”

“Yep.”

“And even go wherever I want to go?”

“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”

She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”

Many fear that the grace-delivered, blood-bought, deliverance of radical freedom will result in loveless license. But as the two stories above illustrate, redeeming unconditional love alone (not law, not fear, not punishment, not guilt, not shame) carries the power to compel heart-felt loyalty to the One who gave us (and continues to give us) what we don’t deserve (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bless, Unburden, Serve, Heal, Mend, Restore, and Liberate.

The Son of God was the new Adam. He was both the actual presence and the harbinger of a new kingdom. Everything about his life, his teaching, and his death was a demonstration of a different kind of power — not just in relation to the spiritual realm and not just in relation to the ruling political authorities, but in the ordinary social dynamics of everyday life.

It operated in complete obedience to God the Father, it repudiated the symbolic trappings of elitism, it manifested compassion concretely out of calling and vocation, and it served the good of all and not just the good of the community of faith. In short, in contrast to the kingdoms of this world, his kingdom manifests the power to bless, unburden, serve, heal, mend, restore, and liberate.


— James Davison Hunter

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Very Close indeed.

“God’s goodness is near us.  It is not a goodness far away, but God follows us with his goodness in whatever situation we are.  He attaches himself to us, he has made himself close, that he might be near us in goodness.  He is a father, and everywhere to maintain us.  He is a husband, and everywhere to help.  He is a friend, and everywhere to comfort and counsel.  His love is a near love.  He has taken upon himself the closest kinds of relationships, so that we may never lack God and the evidences of his love.”
     
---Richard Sibbes

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sin and Eagles

I feel when I have sinned an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would not do to go, as if it were making Christ the minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses. But I am persuaded they are all lies direct from hell.

John argues the opposite way—‘If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father.’ The holy sensitiveness of the soul that shrinks from the touch of sin, the acute susceptibility of the conscience at the slightest shade of guilt, will of necessity draw the spiritual mind frequently to the blood of Jesus.

And herein lies the secret of a heavenly walk. Acquaint yourself with it, my reader, as the most precious secret of your life. He who lives in the habit of a prompt and minute acknowledgement of sin, with his eye reposing calmly, believingly, upon the crucified Redeemer, soars in spirit where the eagle’s wings range not.
     
       — Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Monday, July 14, 2014

Action.

Jesus loved the enthusiast, the man who knew what side he was on and threw himself wholeheartedly into the struggle. He liked energetic action, as in the men who climbed the roof and broke a way through for their paralyzed friend, or in Zacchaeus who forgot his dignity and swarmed up a tree.

He loved the generous giver.  All four Gospels quote His saying, ‘He who loves life loses it; he who spends keeps.’  It sums up His attitude to life.

He praised the man who banged on the door till he got an answer; He wanted men to show that kind of determination in the affairs of religion.  He praised the widow who badgered the unjust judge into doing justice.  He did not like playing for safety or burying one’s talent. 

It is the peace-makers rather than the peace-keepers whom He blesses.  Goodness is a positive active loyalty.

---Hugh Martin, The Seven Letters: Christ’s Message to His Church

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Elvis or the Beatles? Ladder or Cross?

From Tullian Tchividjian:

In Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) tells Vincent Vega (John Travolta) that she needs to find out what kind of person he is before she’ll go to dinner with him. Here’s what she says:
My theory is that when it comes to important subjects, there’s only two ways a person can answer. For instance, there’s two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis. And Elvis people can like the Beatles. But nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells me who you are.
There are other important things in life that can tell us what kind of person you are: chunky peanut butter, or smooth? Regular cola, or diet? It seems to me that the same is true when it comes to reading the Bible. Do you read the Bible as a helpful tool in your climb up toward moral betterment or as the story of God coming down to broken, sinful people?

In a very real way, our lives are defined by how we answer that question. Specifically, our lives are defined either by a cross or by a ladder. The ladder symbolizes our ascension—our effort to “go up.” The cross symbolizes God’s descension—his coming down.

There is no better story in the Old Testament, or perhaps the whole Bible, for depicting the difference between the ladder-defined life and the cross-defined life than that of the Tower of Babel.

In Genesis 11:4, the people make a decision. “Come, let us build ourselves a city,” they said, “with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” This is humanity in a nutshell. We want desperately to be known, appreciated, lauded, and extolled. We want to secure our own meaning, significance, and worth. We give our all to these objectives.

But then something funny happens.

After the people go to work to build this tower that reaches “to the heavens,” v.5 says, “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.” I find this verse to be a great and sobering picture of our futile attempts to “make a name for ourselves,” to do something great in our own power. The momentous achievement that the builders are so proud of is so small and insignificant to God that he has to “come down from heaven” to even see what they’re up to. All their efforts, all their hard work, have resulted in a tower that not only doesn’t reach the heavens, but that can’t even be seen from them!

None of our best attempts and none of our self-righteous strivings (and make no mistake, that is exactly what they are) can get us up to God.

We are like the tower-builders: addicted to a ladder-defined life. We think that a life of ladder-climbing is a life of freedom: free to move at our own pace, up or down depending on our decisions, responsible for our own progress. We climb our ladders for the same reasons that the people of the world built their tower: to make a name for ourselves, to ensure our own legacy, to secure our own value. We love to imagine that we’re on a higher rung than someone else, a better father than someone else, a more accomplished follower of Christ than someone else. But ladder-climbing actually and inevitably leads to slavery.

Paul Zahl, in his amazing little book Who Will Deliver Us?, describes the ladder-defined life like this:
If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my worth. My identity is the sum of my achievements. Hence, if I can satisfy the boss, meet the needs of my spouse and children, and still do justice to my inner aspirations, then I will have proven my worth…conversely…if I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy. To myself I will cease to exist.
The life of slavery happens when we try to “do it ourselves.” We become imprisoned by our failures (often real, sometimes perceived) and to ourselves, we cease to exist. This isn’t freedom, it’s bondage.

But there is good news: our towers of Babel don’t remain standing.

God loves us too much to leave us in the hell of unhappiness that comes from trying to do his job. Into the slavish misery of our ladder-defined lives, God condescends.

His first act is an act of judgment. He scatters them—he dis-organizes them, literally. God takes away their faith in themselves, the very misplaced faith that enslaves them. When everyone in the world spoke the same language, God came down in judgment, breaking the world apart. But at just the right time, he came down again, this time to reconcile that sinful world to himself. He replaces our ladder with his cross. His final descent was to save us, and to set us free.

So how do you read the Bible? Is the Bible a manual for living the ladder-defined life? Or is it the announcement of the one who came down and hung on a cross in order to rescue us from our efforts to make it on our own?

God is not at the top of a ladder shouting, “Climb.” He is at the bottom on a cross whispering, “It is finished.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

An intelligent fourth-grader.

To pray for your enemies, to worry about the poor when you have worries enough of your own, to start becoming yourself fully by giving of yourself prodigally to whoever needs you, to love your neighbors when an intelligent fourth-grader could tell you that the way to get ahead in the world is to beat your neighbors to the draw every chance you get-that was what this God asked, Paul wrote. 

That was who this God was. That was who Jesus was. Paul is passionate in his assertion, of course, that in the long run it is such worldly wisdom as the intelligent fourth-grader's that is foolish and the sublime foolishness of God that is ultimately wise.

- Frederick Buechner

Friday, June 27, 2014

Humble and Bold. Bold and Humble.


 And here is the source of true kindness. The salvation of Jesus humbles us profoundly – we are so lost that he had to die for us. But it exalts and assures us mightily — we are so valued that he was glad to die for us. Because we are sinners totally accepted by grace, we have both the humility and the boldness necessary to serve others for their sake, not ours.
       — Tim Keller

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It is Finished.

“We can put it this way–the man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He stops saying, ‘Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but now I have done this and that.’ If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, ‘Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.’”  
     -----D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mercy and Grace

Our assurance, our glory, and the sole anchor of our salvation are that Christ the Son of God is ours, and we in turn are in him sons of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, called to the hope of eternal blessedness by God’s grace, not by our worth.

— John Calvin

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Driving a nice (but not too nice) car.

By Tullian Tchividjian at Liberate Blog:

In 1 John 5:3-4 John makes what seems, on the face of it, to be a ridiculous claim: the commands of God are not burdensome.

What? Has John not read the Old Testament, with its 613 commandments? Was he not there for the Sermon on the Mount, complete with Jesus’ proclamation that his followers are required to be perfect, just as their father in heaven is perfect? As if those laws weren’t burdensome enough, we could add all of the self-imposed Christian commandments, like the kinds of movies we allow ourselves to watch (maybe a swear word or two is okay, but nudity isn’t), the cars we drive (we like nice things as much as the next person, but we don’t want to be showy, do we?), or even the expressions on our faces (we want to be cheerful, to show people what a good life Christ has given us). We are burdened…perhaps more than anyone.

The idea that God’s commandments are not burdensome seems to diametrically oppose our experience: to us, they feel super burdensome.

And yet, we do have Jesus offer of an easy yoke and a lightened burden. He does promise rest. But how does that work? How do the obviously burdensome commandments of life become not burdensome? How is it that Jesus’ yoke is easy when he is the one asking us to be perfect?

The answer, though incredibly profound, is actually quite simple. Though the commandments are indeed burdensome, that burden has been laid on the shoulders of another. Jesus Christ, who demands that we be perfect, achieves perfection in our place. Jesus Christ, the culmination of the Old Testament story, fulfills the Old Testament laws. That same weight that threatens to break our backs actually did crush our savior. The weights that we bear every day are simply aftershocks of our human attempts to save ourselves. The weights we feel are a phantom; they’ve already been taken to the cross, carried up the Via Dolorosa on Christ’s back. We are free. We are, in Christ, unburdened.
This is true today, and every day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Unbiblical expectations of what Christian growth should look like.

"Perhaps our greatest problem is not the reality of our sin, but our unbiblical expectations of what Christian growth should look like. What if growing in grace is more about humility, dependence, and exalting Christ than it is about defeating sin. … It is a radical and almost frightening thought to see that God is actually as much at work in our worst moments of sin and defeat as he is in our best moments of shining obedience.”

----Barbara Duguid, Extravagant Grace

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Slave or Free?

“According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.” 
 
 – G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, May 25, 2014

We would be free but on our own.

From Tim Keller's Commentary on Romans:

Yet it is very easy and common to think of our salvation only in terms of the first and not the second, only as the transfer off of our sins, but not as the transfer on of his rights and privileges. 

We tend to think only that Christ has pardoned us and removed our legal liability. When we do that, we are really only “half-saved by grace.” We can get pardon, but now we have to live a good life to earn and maintain God’s favor and rewards.

But this text shows us that not only did Christ remove the curse we deserved, but he also gives us the blessing he deserved. God’s honor and reward is just as secure and guaranteed as our pardon. To use another image. Jesus’ salvation is not just like receiving a pardon and release from death row and prison. Then we’d be free, but on our own. Jesus has also put on us the Congressional Medal of Honor. We are received and welcomed as heroes, as if we had accomplished extraordinary deeds.

Unless we remember this we will be anxious and even despairing when we sin or fail. We think our slate has been wiped clean, but now God’s opinion and acceptance of us is based on our record. That is not the case. When a son becomes heir, that inheritance is guaranteed. It is not a prize to be won. It is his. So is our salvation.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sheep or Goat

Rob Bell in his book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

“Jesus told a story about a king who was making decisions about his subjects, separating people "as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." The sheep, we learn, are the ones who brought the king food when he was hungry and water when he was thirsty and clothes when he was naked and looked after him when he was sick and visited him when he was in prison.

The sheep are confused when they learn of their good standing with the king.

"Uhhhhhhh, king?" they protest. "When were you hungry or thirsty or naked or lonely or sick? We've never seen that!" They ask because of course they understand the king to be quite wealthy, not lacking in basic necessities like food, clothing, and friends.

He responds, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

The king here makes the astounding claim that he is somehow present with and standing in solidarity with all of them, and that love and care and compassion shown to others is love for him.

Jesus tells stories like this one often, stories that speak to the divine presence in every single one of our interactions—a unity, power, and love present in all things, hidden right here in plain sight.

This story Jesus told raises the haunting question: What are we missing? Is there an entire world, right here within this one, as close as our breath, but we aren't seeing it because we're moving too fast, we're separated from the source, cut off from the depths, our eyes not as open as they could be?

Jesus comes to help us see things as they truly are, moving forward, with greater and greater connectivity, higher and higher levels of hierarchy leading to holism beyond even us as all matter is permeated by the redeeming energy and power of God.

The first Christians had a way of talking about this massive movement, bigger than any one of us, that's sweeping across human history: they wrote that God is in the process of moving everything forward so that God will be over all and through all and in all, and in another passage in the Bible it's written that God does what God does so that God may be all in all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Punishment never has the power that forgiveness has.

Steve Brown tells a story that provokes thought on the subject of losing and finding:

The woman was washing dishes in the kitchen sink one day after the children had left for school. She looked at a particular plate. She stared at it a long time and asked herself over and over again, “How many times have I washed this plate? How many times have I dried it? How many times will I wash it and dry it again?” She then set down the plate, took off her apron, packed a few of her belongings and left.

That night she called home to tell her husband that she was all right, but that she just could not come home again. From time to time, over the next several weeks, she would call just to see how her husband and children were doing. But she would never tell them where she was, nor accede to the pleas from her family to return.

The husband hired a detective to search for her, and after picking up a few leads, the detective tracked her down. She was in another state, living in a small apartment over a coffee shop where she had a job as a waitress. Her husband set out immediately to bring her home. When he found the place she was staying, he knocked on the door of her upstairs apartment. She opened the door, saw him, and did not say a word.

She went into the bedroom, packed her belongings, and silently followed him out to the car. Then, in silence, he drove her home.

Several hours later when the two of them were alone in their bedroom he finally spoke, and he asked her, “Why didn’t you come home before? Over the phone I begged you to return. Why didn’t you come?”

The wife answered, “I heard your words, but it wasn’t until you came for me that I realized how much you cared and how important I was to you.”

Kent Hansen adds a nice commentary on the story:

This story is kind of upsetting, isn’t it? “What was she thinking to walk off like that?” We think that way, don’t we? The woman was selfish and irresponsible. She caused a lot of trouble and heartbreak to her husband and children. It’s tempting to want the husband to hold out on her and not just take her back until she has proven that she is really, really sorry.

What if the husband hadn’t gone to the woman, but instead divorced her and sued for sole custody of the children on the ground of abandonment. That would be his right, but that story line only goes so far before it dead ends. Punishment never has the power that forgiveness has. Have you ever wept for joy over witnessing a well-deserved punishment? Have you ever felt the thrill of getting in the last lick or last word in a conflict? Did that thrill last long? On the other hand, have you ever been amazed and moved by witnessing or receiving the mercy of forgiveness and restoration?

The power of the story is in the husband going to the trouble of finding the woman, going to her, and bringing her home. It is undeserved grace. We would pronounce judgment, but thanks be to God, “Mercy trumps judgment (Js 2:13). We are moved by the example of a love that doesn’t quit and restores to wholeness rather than destroys one who is alienated and lost and causing great hurt.

Oh, yes, the joy of the Lord is in the finding of what was lost and restoring it in love. That’s what Jesus came to do and the power of the Gospel is in forgiveness, not in the threat of punishment.

One day Jesus was standing in a group of tax collectors and sinners who came near to him to hear his words of grace. On the outside of the group were eavesdropping Pharisees and religious scholars who were outraged by Jesus’ indiscriminate kindness.  They grumbled, “This fellow welcomes sinners and sits down to eat in fellowship with them.” It was not a compliment and was far from the will of God (Acts 15:19; Rom 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). Any group that depends for its identity on who it excludes rather than who it includes does not reflect the heart of God.

Jesus told the grumbling critics three stories in response to their judgmental complaint. He told them about a shepherd with a hundred sheep, who loses one of them. He leaves the flock in the wilderness and searches for the lost sheep. When he finds it, he picks it up and carries it home. He calls his friends and neighbors and says, “We have to have a party because I found my sheep that was lost.” Jesus told the critics, “One sinner returned home is more of a reason for God to be happy and throw a party than the fact that ninety-nine righteous persons stayed right where they are supposed to be.”

Jesus also told them about a son, who couldn’t wait for his father to die, claimed his inheritance and went out and wasted it. He came to his senses when he realized that he was hungry for the corn cobs he was feeding pigs, but he was really starving for his father’s love and graciousness. The lost boy stumbled his way home with a prepared speech to ask his father to give him a job. His father was waiting for him, ran to him, embraced him, clothed him, brought him inside and threw a big party. The father pleaded with the angry, judgmental elder son to come inside and enjoy the party too because his lost brother had been found and Jesus said it is the character and the compulsion of God to celebrate whenever that kind of thing happens.

Each of these stories has the same structure: Lostness, searching, finding and restoration.

This pattern is the DNA of the true Gospel of Christ. This God of ours, manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ, is a finder and a keeper. In his eyes there are no losers, only lost sheep and lost children who need to be restored to their rightful place at his side.

The stories of the lost sheep and the lost boy are the bookends. Right in the middle Jesus told them another story:

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:8-10).

The relief and joy when the coin was found led the woman to throw a party for her friends and neighbors. In this earthly scene, echoes of heaven’s excitement sounded and Jesus gained another way of explaining his mission. One lost sheep out of a hundred found again; a lost coin found; a lost son returning home to a heart-broken father–all of these were cause for celebration, Jesus said. In heaven they put on the music, fill the balloons, and break out the cake and ice-cream whenever a child of God, who has wandered off to loss and to shame, comes home again.
The sheep and the boy wandered off on their own stubborn and futile ways, but how did the coin become lost? We aren’t told.
 The story here is about finding what was lost and the God, who like the searching shepherd, like the woman diligent in seeking the return of what is precious to her, and like the heart-broken dad waiting for the return of his child, considers no loss acceptable. He sets aside every other consideration to make his search.

His sweep is comprehensive, his light is penetrating, and his search is careful, but this story isn’t about good housekeeping or loss control. You can search Luke 15 in vain for any indication that God wants to scrutinize and analyze how the loss occurred and how to prevent it from happening again before extending salvation.

No, the God revealed to us by Jesus is no conservative, stern nit-picker shouting, “I told you so” to the broken, defeated and shamed. God as the father described by Jesus in the parable of the two sons doesn’t even wait for his errant son to finish his groveling confession before hugging him to his chest and calling for the celebration to begin.

Jesus showed us that God forgives and forgets because he wants the largest possible guest list for his party. He risks all for love. The story of the lost coin is about the outbreak of joy in the heart of God when the lost is found. What gives God joy in his heart gives the Pharisees heartburn and therein lies the judgment. Think about it.

You cannot understand this story unless you put yourself in the role of the lost coin. God thinks of you with love and faithfulness for eternity. He doesn’t quit loving you. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:19). If God ever stopped thinking about you with love, he would cease to exist and that is not going to happen.

The Creator’s identity is revealed in his creatures. A parent’s identity is carried in the child. You bear the image of God and he delights in you (Gen 1:27). He says, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; and my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hos 11:8).

Jesus speaks of us, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:28-30). “Greater than all else”– you and I are that important to our heavenly Father.

God is dismayed and heartbroken to lose you from that relationship and overjoyed to find you again. You matter to God. He cares what happens to you. He wants you back. He finds you and puts you back where you belong.

People are fond of saying, “There are two sides to every coin,” to caution us not to expect much. That’s not what God thinks about you. He’s no spoilsport, harsh taskmaster or implacable critic. He loves you. He is proud and happy to have you with him.

You can expect everything of your God because he won’t disappoint you for eternity. You have his word on this: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:26). So enjoy the party! It’s meant for you!

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are they who find refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).



Thursday, May 15, 2014

May God bless the hell out of us all!

Erik Guzman of Key Life Ministries has a pretty provocative analysis of the Parable of the Vineyard Workers.  That parable is where I came up with the name of this blog.  Click here for that post.


From Erik's post at KeyLife:

God is not fair. He gleefully flaunts it too. He shoves it in our faces. Jesus’ version of reality is devoid of common sense. The Kingdom of God might as well be called “Crazy Upside Down Jesus World.”

Here’s an example.

Say I need some landscaping done at my house. So I go to the day-laborer place and I hire up all the guys standing around. We agree on $100 per guy for a day’s work. They work hard for a couple hours, but it doesn’t look like we’ll get all the work done by quitting time. So I go back to the day-laborer place and get some more guys.

A couple more hours go by. I need more guys. I go get ‘em. They work.

A couple more hours. More guys. More work. By this time my yard looks like an ant colony with workers swarming all over the place pulling bushes, planting trees, laying sod, hauling decorative rocks, building planters, etc.

Everything looks good, so I go get the guys some chicken and beers to show my appreciation. With about an hour of daylight left, I head back to my house and pass the day-laborer place on the way. To my surprise, I see some guys just showing up looking for work.

I think that these guys are slackers. You don’t show up at the end of the day looking for work. They probably slept all day after partying the night before. Now they’re here to hook up with their friends who actually got their butts out of bed to earn some money.

So I pull in and ask them why they’re standing around. They say, “Look man, you know...we been standing here all day and nobody hired us.”

I know they’re full of it, but I’m a good guy. I have plenty of cash and these hosers look like they could use a break. I hire the guys and haul them to my place. They get about an hour of work in before everything is done and we all sit around eating, drinking and BS-ing.

It comes time to call it a day and pay the workers, so they all line up. Of course the slackers step up first, beers in hand, licking their fingers clean of fried chicken. They’re delighted as I hand each a 100-dollar bill. Then the next group. They get $100 too. Same with the next guys...and the next.

About this time, the guys who showed up first think they may get more since they worked the entire day. They step up. All eyes are on me. They each get $100. They look at me like I’m the Frankenstein monster and they’re the townspeople ready to attack with shovels and pitchforks. They start shouting complaints.

I say, “Hey, you agreed to a day’s work for $100. That’s a good wage. If I want to give the last guys the same as you, it’s a free country. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or are you giving me the evil eye because I’m good?”

Jesus tells a story just like this in Matthew 20:1-16. Then you know what he says? He says, “Let me tell all y’all somethin’. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the last are first...and the first are last.”

WHAT?!! You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s outrageous. It’s not fair. Who would pay good money to guys who don’t deserve it and then shove that fact in the faces of the guys who worked the hardest?  But there you have it, right there in the Bible.

That’s just one example. Go read about the rebellious son who squanders all his dad’s money on hookers and booze. You know what he gets for it when he comes home? His dad buys him new clothes and throws him a party while his brother works in the field. The religious folks get a tongue lashing from Jesus while the drunks, outcasts and whores get the Kingdom. The meek inherit the earth. The persecuted are blessed. It’s all simply scandalous.

In the real world, you work, you get paid. That’s reality. You study hard, you get an “A.” That’s the way of the world. You do bad stuff, you get punished. You do good, you get rewarded. However, God’s ways are certainly not our ways.

 

So what is he up to?

Why all of this insane generosity to the worst and weakest of us?

I’ll tell you. It’s the way that he chastens us. It’s the way he sets us straight.

“Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

There you have it. He doesn’t give us cancer or earthquakes. He doesn’t get us fired or wreck our car. He doesn’t take our children or our spouses. He doesn’t do any of this to teach us a lesson. That’s what you would expect. In fact, that’s how all the pagan gods do it, but not Yahweh.

If he were interested in punishing us for the evil in our hearts, death and destruction would be in order. Sure we’ve seen that kind of thing in the Old Testament, but that was all part of God setting the stage to come himself to take the punishment humanity deserved. Now, he’s not mad at us anymore. He spent all his anger on Jesus; there’s none left for us. God was never interested in wiping us out. He’s interested in getting us to turn around and come home. He’s interested in getting us to repent, and to do so, he blesses us. God literally blesses the hell out of us.

Listen to these words from Spurgeon:
“When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”
So while it’s not what we expect, it’s what the gospel is all about. That’s the good news. Jesus taught that it’s the way things work in the Kingdom of Heaven. You see, we can’t work hard enough to get God to owe us anything and we can’t be bad enough to get him to punish us.

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).

What’s more, grace through faith is not just how we get into the family of God. It’s how we live (Galatians 3:1-3).

All that isn’t to say that there aren’t consequences for the stupid things we do. On top of that, there’s the mess we all experience from living in a fallen world. But don’t confuse that stuff with God’s punishment. There’s no punishment left after the cross.

However, he does want to bless the hell out of us. This is obviously great news for the slackers who show up hungover to work for an hour and get paid just as much as the guys who worked all day. It’s great news for the prodigals who get to come home to a party after spending dad’s money partying. It’s great news for a jacked up guy like me. But for the older brother and the guys working in the field all day, this great news is a tough pill to swallow.

Robert Farrar Capon, in Between Noon and Three, expresses their thoughts on the gospel with style:
“Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance. Lord, let your servants depart in the peace of their proper responsibility. If it is too much to ask, send us to bed with some few shreds of self-respect to congratulate ourselves upon. But if that is too hard, leave us at least the consolation of our self-loathing. Only do not force us free. What have we ever done but try as best we could? How have we so hurt you, even by failing, that you should now turn on us and say that none of it makes any difference, not even our sacred guilt? We have played this game of yours, and it has cost us. Where do you get off suggesting a drink at a time like this?”
It’s not fair, but that’s how the Kingdom of Heaven works. If you don’t like that, I bet you’ve been working really hard to please God. I also bet you can be a big pain. Lighten up. He’s already pleased.

As he loves us, we become more loving. As he indiscriminately accepts us, we become more indiscriminately accepting. As he blesses us, we become a blessing.

May God bless the hell out of us all!