You > Me

2 Corinthians 8:5
and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

This is nothing new, but COVID has thrown fuel on our addiction to personal preferences. Before I go on, what I will describe as Netflix Church cuts both ways, including congregants as well as pastors….if I am coming across as a finger-pointer, please forgive me. We are all in this Pit of Preference together.

When I was a little kid our media entertainment was pretty much limited to what was on the three major networks plus PBS, and only at the exact time it was showing (VCRs came out a bit later, but not used that terribly often). We had to actually be home Thursday nights at 9pm to watch Cheers. The first remote control I ever saw was at my great-grandmother’s house. It was connected to the tv by a wire and it had 2 or 3 buttons: I think (not sure) that it had an on/off button, plus a volume up/down button and a channel up/down button. And my mind was blown at the technology.

Now we have thousands of channels and the instant ability to start, stop, pause, record and change the show, all while sitting on the couch eating Cheetos. And we still say “there’s nothing to watch.”

With infinite choices for food, exercise, entertainment etc, it is completely natural that we begin to live every other part of our lives with a Netflix-Mentality. When we come to church it will be an aggressive and overt battle to NOT see it as “entertainment” – we want to hear what we want, for how long we want, and leave feeling the way we want while not being “required” to do anything that we don’t want. This is the human condition which has been injected with beastly steroids over the past decade.

– How have you mentally “rated” the worship service based on your preferences?
– How has corporate worship been treated as convenient and/or inconvenient?
– Try to differentiate the difference between a worship essential vs. a preference.
– Why do you suppose we all have gotten comfortable with this mindset?
– What do you think the solution could be?

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Alright church leaders, this is for us. It’s so easy to arrogantly sit on our high horses as we look down our noses at those that feel to us like consumers and critics. But how much are WE consumers and critics?

Pastor as Consumer: As broken people we pastors are powerfully drawn to “consume” the approval of others. It is most certainly a mixed bag (like it is with all of us) but it is so easy to come in on Sunday not just with an excitement and calling to open the Word of God to the Body, but also with an expectation that the Body will satisfy my craving for approval, respect and a feeling of accomplishment. As Timothy Keller has mentioned before when talking about the insecurity that comes from pride, we pastors are drawn to compliments like a shark is to chum (while criticism sends us to the depths).

Pastor as Critic: It is likewise so tempting (and easy) to paint people with a broad and judgemental brush as we make assumptions about why people do what they do. We can find ourselves internally criticizing people for not behaving the way we WANT them to behave (and, to be honest, sometimes the way Scripture has told us to behave).

With all of these in mind, from the viewpoint of the congregant and the pastor, how often do we internally give one another a low YELP review? How often do all of us complain because things aren’t personally pleasing?

The Gospel equips us to be fully secure in the value and identity that Christ has procured for us on the cross so that I don’t have to expect others to satisfy me. I am loved and adopted, which means I am equipped to hear compliments AND criticisms with a humble heart; and give (appropriate) compliments and criticisms that are truly for the growth of that person (and not simply to reduce my annoyance levels).

In order to grow in that direction (I intentionally didn’t say “get there” because we won’t in this lifetime) we need to 1) be secure in our value as God’s Children, and 2) be in actual, strong, loving relationships with one another, which will enable us to speak and listen because we will be (reasonably) sure that we are FOR one another, not trying to merely fix one another. And this needs to begin with church leaders.

So join me in this. Let’s prayerfully look at how a Netflix-Church mentality may have infiltrated our hearts. How do I treat others (worship, God, friends etc) from a “preference” point of view rather than from (like the Macedonians in 2Cor8) a “giving my very life” point of view?

Wow. I need even more of the Holy Spirit’s power than I imagined.

Wow. I HAVE more of the Holy Spirit’s power than I ever dreamed.

Sorry

I told you last week I’d spend a few weeks on prayer. Sorry. I was wrong. I’ll pick up the prayer discussion next week, but this week I wanted to add a bit more to last week’s sermon on repentance.

In the sermon we walked through 2 Corinthians 7, with emphasis on 7:10 “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” When we see the pain of this world and, more especially, the pain (i.e. “sin”) that emanates from my own heart, we turn to two different kinds of “grief” : “worldly grief” or “godly grief.”

Worldly Grief can look like godly grief but is characterized by a self-centered point of view as we are more concerned with how getting caught impacts me than the sinful behavior itself. Here are some examples of what Worldy Grief smells like:

  • “I’m such a horrible person” – We turn downward in despair and really make it all about ourselves and how wretched we are.
  • “I didn’t mean to” – We agree that we did something wrong, but don’t take responsibility for it.
  • “I’ll never do it again” – We own the fact that we did it but make it about behavioral management rather than relational breakage. (Yes, true repentance can smell a little like this, but repentance results in changed behavior, it isn’t behavior change in itself.)
  • “I’m sorry if you were offended” – This is a classic these days. It can almost look like repentance, until you realize that the wording implies that the problem isn’t in what I did, but in you being so soft and weak that you were offended, which means this is all your fault.
  • “What’s my punishment” – So often (if we are really honest) the deepest grief we feel when we do something terrible is the realization that we’ll have to “pay a price” for our behavior. We are devastated that the “bell tolls for me.”
  • “Yeah, but you…” – These are the days of gaslighting, and many of us have made it an art. We don’t necessarily disagree that we’ve done something wrong, but IN COMPARISON we aren’t nearly as wrong and bad as you. It’s the jujitsu of repentance.
  • “I’m sorry that happened” – I was reminded of this one after my sermon. It happened after a hockey game where one player severely (and intentionally) injured another player. When asked for a response, he was “truly sad that something like this happened” while taking no responsibility whatsoever that it was HIM that caused the injury.

One thing I didn’t really get to in the sermon is WHY we are so bad at repenting, and was quickly reminded. On Monday an article popped up on my regular news feed titled “Why Is It So Hard to Apologize?”

Though not from a faith-based perspective it gives some good insight into our hearts of unrepentance. The one I want to focus on, and offer some healing from, is this:

“As Schumann reeled off these barriers to apologizing, I thought, Not me, nope, not that one either. Then, there it was: Apologizing, she explained, is hell on one’s self-image as a decent, caring, sensitive, moral person.”

https://www.mindful.org/why-is-it-so-hard-to-apologize/

There it is. The biggest barrier to repentance is our arrogance and insecurity. In order to repent we have to admit and own our deep flaw, making ourselves vulnerable in the worst way possible. We spend our whole lives trying to convince others (and ourselves, and God) that we are ok, valuable, worthy. To repent is to come to the end of our self-made righteousness. It is a true and deep death. And it’s exactly where we MUST be in order to have empty hands that can receive the gift of Christ’s Righteousness.

As long as my fingers are clutched around the idol of my self righteousness there is no room for the righteousness of Christ. But this idol is a facade at best and a disease at worst. Not only is it a figment of our imagination, but we are actually clutching a poisonous beast that aims to destroy us.

But Jesus invites us to let go as he clutches us in his own hands. He invites us to a godly grief where we own what our sin really is: spiritual and lethal adultery against our holy Groom. And this grief brings us not to denial but repentance, which opens the gateway for the perfect Righteousness of Jesus to be poured out on us because our lethal poisonous beast was unleashed upon Him on the Cross.

When I get tiny glimpses that even my repentance needs to be repented of, I can turn to Jesus and realize that my worth, value, hope, identity and very being isn’t based upon what I do and don’t do, but upon Him and My Adoption into His Family, which makes repentance not just possible, but a joy that brings freedom.

Prayer: #1 – Divine Communication

Communication is so hard.

What we call communication is actually us talk for a while, then pausing a little as the other person talks as we wait for a break so that we can begin to talk again. And the other person is probably doing the same thing. This isn’t communication, it’s just two entities talking. Communication, by definition, is two sided. It’s relaying information as well as receiving (and hopefully comprehending) information. It’s not just talking. It’s listening.

Even as I write this a quick article popped up in my feed where the author quotes Cash Nickerson, author of The Samurai Listener: “Unfortunately most people don’t remember because they don’t hear it in the first place.”

We are inherently bad at communication with one another so naturally it seeps into our prayer life, which is the origin and foundation of all communication. The very first conversation in history was between one man and God, where each spoke and each listened. But then came the Fall, where our communication became warped with selfishness, ignorance, judgement and agendas.

For the next few weeks I want to wade into the warm waters of Prayer with hope and practicality. Personally I feel like I am still in Prayer Elementary School and am usually embarrassed by my felt inability. But I know I am learning and growing. There are times in my prayer life that I am actually listening to God, and sometimes find out that God is also listening to me (why does that surprise me?).

Let me tell you this story from last week, and then in my next post we’ll pull out our archeological tools and begin to uncover the ancient art of prayer:

I was sitting in a chair on the beach at sunrise last week, reading my bible and praying. I felt really stuck in my prayers, not even knowing how to vocalize what was in my heart…no even KNOWING what was in my heart. So I began to literally and simply pray to the Holy Spirit, confessing that I didn’t know what to pray for and asking Him to pray to the Father on my behalf. Two minutes later a lady I’ve never seen before slowly passed in front of me on a bike, turned to me, and said “I’m praying for you this morning”.

That’s it. I never saw her again. I didn’t run after her and asked why she had said that. I just sat there and thanked the Holy Spirit for this gift, for this reminder that He is listening…AND He is communicating with the Father on my behalf.

So why does this matter? We are free! Free to pray, and free to stumble in our prayers. Free to be eloquent and free to sound like an incoherent child. The Spirit is the translator that connect our mouth to the Father’s ears and the Father’s mouth to our ears. So take the pressure off and just begin.

Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

For more depth on the Holy Spirit prayer on our behalf, listen to THIS sermon by Ligon Duncan (super amazing pastor/preacher/professor).

Refuge

Psalm 62:7

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

2020 is the year that the CDC pleaded with us to “shelter in place” in an effort to protect ourselves and others from the looming danger of a potentially deadly virus. Though it has felt isolating and often burdensome, we are naturally bent toward “sheltering.” Scripture calls it taking refuge. The Psalmists frequently invite us to “take refuge” during storms and impending danger. It is like they are standing in the doorway of a brick house during a hail storm calling us out of the elements and into safety. These storms happen everyday, from which we keep looking for refuge.

  • The storm of COVID
  • The storm of financial problems
  • The storm of broken relationships
  • The storm of nauseating sin
  • The storm of addictions

The world gives us infinite (and often very helpful, though temporary) places of refuge during these storms: masks, grief counseling, financial planning, AA, prescriptions. These can truly help when the hail is raining on our heads. But there has to be more. There has to be a Real Refuge because the storms just don’t stop, and The Storm of Sin, Fear and Death is pressing in.

In my regular everyday life, while I am taking appropriate shelters, I need two more things:

  1. Ask what unhealthy shelters am I taking, which takes on two elements?
    1. Some shelters are simply sin:
      1. Jumping into an inappropriate relationship (or porn) just to feel loved.
      2. Financial impropriety to get out of debt
      3. Lashing out at others to gain control
    2. Some shelters might be overboard:
      1. Never going into public to ensure I don’t get sick.
      2. Not confronting sin so that I don’t rock the boat.
      3. Taking a pill for every malady.
  2. Seeing and enjoying the Lord as my refuge.
    1. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
    2. “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” Psalm 91:4
    3. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jn 14:27

I am painfully aware that this can feel like shallow placating. I need something more than “just trust God” and “but God will work this out for your good.” Yes, those are true. But when I am being beaten down by the hailstorm, I need something I can actually hold onto.

In 2018 Fiona Simpson of Australia was caught with her baby in a massive hailstorm that began to break through the windows. In sacrificial love she laid over her child and was brutally beaten by the hail. She and her baby survived, but she was left with horrible injuries all over her body.

This is what I can hold onto: God himself has done infinitely more than what Fiona did for you and me on the cross. The storm of death was raining down, and so he covered himself over us, taking the hit of death itself. We still get pummeled in this life with relational trauma, abuse, sin, slander, ruin. He has proven his immeasurable love for me on the cross, and therefore Paul can tell us (Paul, the one who was beaten, slandered and continually faced death and pain) in Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

So what does this mean? Most of us Westerners (me included) have been brainwashed to believe that the utmost goal of life is being safe and comfortable. It is this mindset that determines the type of refuges we create and “rest” in. God has actually told us over and over that sin WILL cause us real pain, discomfort, injustice. Our bodies will decay and our relationships will cause heartbreak, but God has already made all things right and is calling us to begin living the resurrected life now. This is what Easter is about. The cross wasn’t the finale. It defeated sin and the resurrection defeated death.

John 16:33
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”


God’s Names – Shepherd

Psalm 23:1
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Sheep and goats are amazing and ridiculous beasts. They can be really social and even companions to us. And they can get themselves into terrible and dangerous situation. And they have serious issues with eating, especially what to eat and how much to eat. And they are awesome.

So it’s no wonder we are so often referred to as “sheep” in Scripture.

We are community-oriented “companions” to one another and to our Shepherd. When I was a kid (dad-joke intended) my brother and I and a couple of cousins each had a pet goat at the Land Ranch. These domesticated beasts would act almost dog-like, bouncing up to you as you walked into the barn (in hopes of being fed, but more on that in a minute). They travel in herds, listen to their guides and even to a degree cuddle up with you. We all are made for community and joy. We are designed to bounce up to our Shepherd, be fed and tenderly cared for. It makes us come alive.

And we do the dumbest things because we are either not paying attention or just don’t know any better. One of our ranch-duties was to drive the fence lines to rescue goats from their own stupidity. You see, sometimes goats would roam their massive acreage simply enjoying and grazing neat a the fence. The would then spot a little patch of green grass on the other side of the fence, enticing them to poke their heads through the fence to nibble on some greens. The issue is that these goats have horns. Bending backwards. Which means that when they try to pull their heads out from the fence, their horns prevent their escape. So we would regularly come upon these “stuck goats” and have to clip the fence to free them. My goodness how often we do this. We say something moronic and immediately with we could shove the words back into our mouths, but we can’t. Or react out of a fit of rage, only to find ourselves in more trouble than what caused the rage. Over and over. Everyday. So we need “new mercies every morning” to clip the fence and rescue us…so that we can do it again tomorrow.

And we all have terrible eating disorders where we either starve ourselves or gorge ourselves on unhealthy food (and I’m referring more to spiritual food, though worldly food certainly applies as well). Sometimes goats put their heads through the fence for some “forbidden” grass, and sometimes they just eat the “wrong” stuff that’s right in front of their faces. Ironically I met a goat yesterday whose name is Woody. I was sitting around town when Misty and her goat Woody walked up and sat near me. As we talked about life, goats and what makes for good BBQ (cabrito was on the menu) Woody kept sniffing around and trying to eat pretty much everything, much like a toddler who is learning to walk pulls everything off the shelves and tables he can find. Not only that, but some goats (not sure if it’s all goats) don’t know when their bellies are full…and they keep eating, even to the point of death. This parallel is my everyday life. I want to consume all sorts of things that aren’t on God’s “healthy menu” — and not just the “bad” stuff. I consume too much media because it looks good. I consume too much approval from others because it feels good. I stick my head through a fence to eat up gossip or slander. I need a shepherd to come alongside and feed me the good food, and pull my mouth out of the wrong trough.

And we are awesome, men and women made in the very image of God. Goats are so annoying, and so amazing. They are fun to hold, to play with and enjoy. This is what we are made for in the Lord. In the midst of our ridiculousness we are image-bearers of God himself, and he has designed us for the purpose of enjoying one another and, most especially, enjoying Him by glorifying him as our Shepherd. Our sustainer, feeder, rescuer and friend.

Jesus made this point himself:

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) that so deeply loves us that he comes out searching for and rescuing us morning by morning. But we’ve gotten ourselves in so much trouble through the depths of sin that Jesus is not only our Shepherd, but the Lamb of God who was sacrificed so that we would not have to be.

And now, being loved, freed and empowered, we the lost-but-found sheep are sent out to be under-shepherds, as we see Jesus telling Peter and us:

John 21:16
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

God’s Names – Mighty Rock

I love the picture YouTube chose for this video. It summarizes my character pretty well.

Psalm 62:7
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

We are going to do a little Devotional Series on the Names of God. Not the more “formal” names we might think of, but the personal character-names the Psalmists give God…like Shepherd, Portion, Help, Salvation, Rescue, Fortress, Shield….etc. There are so many great ones.

To start I want to talk about God our “Mighty Rock.”

One of my college summer jobs was being a beach lifeguard at Port Aransas, Texas for a really cool camp. We would position two guards on the beach about 50 years apart and 2 guard in the water at the 2nd sandbar (maybe 50 yards out, about 4 feet deep), making a big square that the kids had to stay in. Several times while being out in the water we’d have a teenager that was getting overwhelmed with the water, current, waves or exhaustion and begin to panic, frantically dog-paddling and feeling like they are going to drown. We’d go over to the kid, speak calmly to them, telling them that all they have to do is stop flailing about and…simply stand up. It looked like the water was deep and the future dim, but in fact there was solid ground available, if they would just stop, and stand.

This is my daily life. It happens in the little things and the big things. Like Peter in Matthew 14 the “wind and the waves” eclipse Jesus and I can’t see how or feel solid ground. And Jesus reaches down, time and time again, to lift me back up and “set my feet on a rock.”

In real life my feet search for solid ground…acceptance by other, financial security, physical health, relationship healing…so many things that I desperately want in order to feel secure. But EVERYTHING in this world is shifting sand. Things change, people fail (especially me), stuff falls apart, injustice continues, pain is chronic. But not so with Jesus. As Peter himself wrote, quoting Isaiah 28

1 Peter 2:6
For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

  • When my financial sand moves, Jesus provides.
  • When my relationships shake, Jesus loves.
  • When I feel all alone, Jesus is the Immanuel.
  • When I am rejected, Jesus was rejected so that my Father will never reject me.
  • When I feel unable, Jesus gave me the Spirit to empower and gift me.
  • When family is difficult, Jesus has made me a co-heir of the Father.
  • When death looms, Jesus died so that it no longer has power.
  • When my body deteriorates, Jesus’ resurrection promises me a new body.


Commit & Trust

Psalm 37:5
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.

I cannot fathom the number of times I wish I would have followed my parents’ advice of “Think before you act.” From being an impatient driver to spontaneous spender to, and most especially, reckless talker. Every day of our lives is filled with a smörgåsbord of actions, plans, goals, decisions, discussions etc. The word “way” is the umbrella statement the Psalmist uses to encompass all these things. He is imploring us and himself to not be a lone-ranger and not be a reckless act-er. To help with this virtually impossible task, here are a few notes:

  1. Way – First we need to get a grip on which “ways” rule our day. I’m not talking about the decision of what socks you are going to wear, but rather those “ways” that rule your life. Maybe more specifically, what big decision or pathway is weighing on you? I recommend you even write these things down so you mind and heart can get a realistic picture of them.
  2. Commit – As you look at these “ways,” begin the miraculous process of putting them onto The Lord’s lap. The classic American way to do this is to pray about something and finish it off with “in Jesus name” and think that we’ve committed our way to the Lord. Nope. It’s actually having a conversation with the Holy Spirit about the path in front of you; the goals, objectives, plans, fear, hopes etc.
  3. Trust in Him – In my mind, this is the hardest part. To Trust in him. Get the verbiage here. It’s NOT to trust in the outcome, but to put your trust in Jesus himself. It’s not just to lay your “ways” on his lap, but it’s then letting go. Repeat that…letting go. This in and of itself is a miraculous work of the Spirit, enabling our hearts to release control, stop trusting in ourselves or in the ways of this world, and begin to trust in the Almighty; his Decisions and His actions.
  4. Act – And God acts. In reality, God has “acted” during this whole process. But regarding this one particular “way” in which you are trying to Commit and Trust, God himself will be the one that carries the burden. We most certainly have a responsibility and are called to get off the couch and work diligently. But with this promise, we can also work FREELY, knowing that the Lord is the one that will make the way and carry us to the end.

Let me give you two examples.

One of the bigger decisions in life revolves around vocation and location. My family and I have made a couple of big moves in life and they were really difficult “ways” that we desperately, prayerfully and miraculously put on the Lord’s lap. In our journey from Houston to Asheville we spent months in prayer and research, as did Grace Community Church. We had a really hard time coming into anything close to clarity, but after seeking a lot of wisdom from faithful men and women, Amy and I just laid it on Jesus’ lap and, in the end, made the best decision we could, leaving the results up to the Lord. And then 6 weeks later thought that we made a horrible decision, wondered where God was, and tried to move back to Houston! See, it’s not so neat and tidy. But as we kept committing our way over and over (as we also de-committed lots of times), God kept showing up. He didn’t give our hearts peace to go back, even though we had another job offer. He confirmed that, even though it was difficult, he had moved us to Asheville and was going to do a work in and through us. It was messy, painful, exciting and glorious. And still is.

The second example is much better. It’s Jesus. In the garden. The night before he was crucified. He got on his knees face down and desperately committed his way to The Father, pleading for Him to “take this cup from me.” But then truly truly TRUSTED the Father by saying (and meaning) “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22). I cannot possibly fathom the love and trust that took. And it sure seemed like the Father DIDN’T act. So much so that Peter tried to sword-fight his way out of God’s plan. But now, on this side of Easter, we know that in fact the Father DID act. Perfectly. Shockingly. He sent his own son to die in our place, and then took our breath away by raising Him from the dead so that all who trust in Christ can also be brought from death to life. All because Jesus Committed his way, Trusted in the Father, Who acted.

And so now we can commit and trust because we have a Father we know we can trust, whose powerful hand is not too short or unsteady. If he did not spare his own son, won’t he give us all good things! (Rom 8:32

The Gospel in the Midst of Unrest

(see below for some helpful links)

Hello Grace Family. The past few months have pushed many of us to our limits, and then last week has pushed many of us beyond. I wanted to take a few minutes to try to wrap the cyclone of violence, fear, racism, hatred and polarizing in the hope of the Jesus. This is not about politics or which news channel to watch (I’d really rather us minimize our news intake and abandon most social media); it’s not about sides or throwing stones. What I want to do is get to the heart of the Gospel which tells me that Jesus became an outsider to come resurrect us rebellious outsiders, empowering us to sacrificially love other outsiders. The Gospel revolves around Jesus, on the cross, paying for the justice that we deserved so that we now pursue love and justice for others. It’s a misunderstanding of the Gospel to minimize or even ignore the outrageous pain and injustice spreading throughout our country.

One of my favorite theologians and pastors is Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote “The Cost of Discipleship,” one of the all-time-great Gospel books. He put his life on the line during WW2 by helping create the “Confessing Church” movement which stood strong against Hitler’s insistance that all Protestant Churches unify as pro-nazi. He was later tried and found guilty of being part of an assassination attempt against Hitler. He was hung April 9, 1945 three weeks before Hitler committed suicide. His words are just as applicable in our time as they were in his: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Now, just to be clear, we are NOT at all living in Nazi Germany and fighting against an evil regime. But we are living in the midst of a some violent and racist people, and our duty is to lovingly stand with one another in pursuit of reconciliation and justice. We need to put down our throwing-stones and realize that the vast majority of people working in law enforcement are truly there to serve and protect all people without exception; and the vast majority of protesters truly want justice and are against rioting and these violent reactions.

As I try to do this, I quickly realize that my theology can’t fit neatly into any political system or party, which means I need to put away my red and blue boxes and begin praying and acting within the mosaic box of the Gospel that simultaneously tells me to respectfully submit to The State (Romans 13) while also sacrificially seeking justice and standing up for the oppressed and poor (Micah 6:8).

Let’s look at the words of the prophet Amos who spoke during horrendously violent injustice and abuse:

Amos 5: 23
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

See the pairing at the end…justice AND righteousness. God will not listen to our worship if it’s just religious, not penetrating our hearts and manifested in loving our neighbor as ourselves; loving the oppressed the way Jesus loved us. In so doing we live out His Righteousness by caring for the downtrodden and marginalized.

So what does that mean?

1) Listen and try to understand. Have actual conversations with a real diversity of people where you just listen to them talk about their experiences. Respect others’ viewpoints. Assume that other people are also intelligent and have a valuable perspective.

2) Go Local. Ask people locally what reconciliation and hope would look like right there at home. Go to those that consistently work with a marginalized and vulnerable population, asking them for wisdom and advice, and how you can be part of a solution.

3) Pray. Please pray for all of our hearts, especially the leaders (political, social, spiritual etc), that they would be overwhelmed by the Love of Christ and desire true love and reconciliation across all boundaries. Also pray for your own heart, that you would better understand the love of Jesus and what it might look like to enjoy his love for yourself as you express his love to our neighbors.

The “&Campaign” which seeks to integrate Biblical Values with Social Justice. HERE

Emmanuel Acho (former NFL player, Christian) explains from a Black Man’s perspective. HERE

The Calls to the Wild

Sometimes God gently whispers.
Sometimes God boldly shouts.

As I’ve talked about before, we have a couple of semi-feral cats. They are indoor/outdoor creatures that can often be found either curled up on the couch or roaming the neighborhood looking for trouble. When evening comes and I suspect the latter, I go out in my front yard, whistle and shake their food bowl, calling them home. More often than not they come running home looking to fill their bellies.

In your experience, what’s the most effective way to get somebody’s (or something’s) attention? What’s the most effective way for somebody to get YOUR attention. Is it the carrot or the stick? In reality, it depends. It depends on the situation, on our ears and attention, on how dire the circumstances and how stubborn our hearts. When one of my cats puts her nose near my food, I don’t use a gentle whisper but a sharp vocal pop. When our daughter Emily was walking too close to the edge of Triple Falls, it was a loud and seemingly harsh correction. When I was in college and trying to “win the heart” of Amy I brought her flowers and wrote her love letters. I didn’t sent Emily flowers to get her to away from the edge of a waterfall and I didn’t loudly instruct Amy to love me (I’m thinking that wouldn’t work very well).

Over endless generations the Lord has done the same. The book of Hosea gives us great insight into this, using both parent/child and husband/wife relationships, more specifically talking about loving a wayward, abused and heart-hurting woman.

Look at these two ways the Lord calls us, The Wild:

Hosea 11:10
They shall go after the LORD;
he will roar like a lion;
when he roars, his children shall come
trembling from the west

Hosea 2:14
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.

Sometimes Jesus turned tables, sometimes he held children.

How do these sync with you? How has God beckoned you to his side, into intimacy?

What I think God really wants us to understand is not to confuse the mode with the message. His message has always been and will always be a proposal and call to deep relationship. His message will always be a calling for our good and His glory; a calling to life and love. This is the coupled message of the cross. The cross is a violent shout against sin, fear and death; and a gentle, soft and alluring whisper of the extent of His love for us and how much he was willing to sacrifice to bring us home.

Love the Law?

Psalm 119 is one of those tough ones that has caused me angst. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses) and, in almost every verse, talks about the greatness and God’s Rules (laws, precepts, ways etc)…AND how much the Psalmist loves and delights in them.

I gotta admit, that’s usually not me. But then I realized and remembered something about God’s Law. The point of the Gospel isn’t about my behaving properly (though that is an outcome) but that goodness, the Law itself, has been fulfilled already in ther person of Jesus. He not only kept them all on our behalf but the beauty of the Law (love, fidelity, honesty etc) describes and defines Him. And this utterly changes the way I read Psalm 119. So when we hear about the Psalmist’s love of God’s rules, we can read that as as love for Jesus, which makes us appreciate the kind and protective measures of his rules; not a means to confine us as much as point us to Jesus.

Here’s some examples:

Psalm 119:31
I cling to your testimonies (“to Jesus”), O LORD;
let me not be put to shame!

Psalm 119:36
Incline my heart to your testimonies (“to Jesus”),
and not to selfish gain.

Psalm 119:37
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways (“Jesus”).

Psalm 119:41
Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise (“Jesus”).

Psalm 119:46
I will also speak of your testimonies (“Jesus”) before kings
and shall not be put to shame,

Psalm 119:47
for I find my delight in your commandments (“Jesus”),
which I love.

Psalm 119:50
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise (“Jesus”) gives me life.

Just to be clear, this certainly doesn’t mean that God’s moral code and guidelines are null and void. Quite the opposite. As Paul talks about in Romans, the Law reveals our inability to be pure and our need for Jesus, driving us to humble repentance and reliance upon him. And once in him, the law reveals what it looks like to live as children of a Good Father rather than little feral orphans that live only for themselves.