With God, all things are possible. So buckle up, show up, and NEVER give up.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Not Left, Not Right, But Narrow

It isn't even lunchtime yet on the day after the election. But, if my social media circles are any kind of barometer for where my fellow Americans are at right now, emotionally, it's clear we're still very much a divided country. Many who voted for Donald Trump, who has won this election in a surprising upset and in even more surprisingly dominant fashion (unless you decry the electoral college), are heaving sighs of relief that Hillary Clinton won't be running America into the ground. Meanwhile, those who voted for Hillary Clinton (or an independent) are insisting that, because of Trump, America is about to be run into the ground over the next 4 years. 

Politically, there's almost no agreement in any arena or demographic. Women are asking other women how they could possibly vote for someone who has a laundry list of chauvinist or even (allegedly) sexually abusive sins. But other women are asking how they should be expected to vote for someone just because she's a female candidate. 

On and on it goes. For many, the very reason why some of you voted for Mr. Trump is the very reason why someone close to you voted for his opponent, and vice versa. 

But I want to shine a light one thing we can all hopefully agree on: 

What's done is done. Our votes have spoken. It's out of our hands now, and all we can do is get back to business. 

And just what is our business? If you're a Jesus-follower, this is just a reminder. If you're not a believer or you're in a season of doubt, this is a tip-off to what our playbook is going forward:

We're not going to worry about the Left. We're not going to worry about the Right. We're going to worry about the Narrow.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

Christians should definitely research political candidates, and exercise their civic duty to impact elections of those who are to govern their nation or communities, just like everybody else. That's the beauty of a democracy. But, unlike everybody else, we don't need to lose sight of who the major players are in what happens in the aftermath. 

That's you and me, fellow Jesus-followers. Armed with all that God provides through his Spirit, we carry at all times a message that offers our fellow man a source of hope that extends past this earthly journey and far overshadows whether America becomes great again or not. 

Clinton supporters and Trump supporters alike - if they're Christian - need to lay aside their personal feelings about whether this election just went as it should've, and GET BACK TO BUSINESS. God has always been in the business of saving souls for eternity, and we are his business partners. 

So think long and hard about the narrow, treacherous, yet ultimately rewarding path that you and I are walking on towards our eternal destiny. Now think about how many others around us we need to recruit to our numbers. 

Our country may or may not always provide the kind of freedom we have now, to go out and make disciples wherever we can find them, and keep them off the highway to spiritual destruction. But doggone it, no matter what happens, that's our mission. 

So whether you're worried about the Left or the Right, politically, let's remember that there's no time like the present to go do God's work, being a light that shines before others and illuminates their steps onto the Narrow Road. That's where we're all meant to be.

To God be the glory in all things, and may others find Him through me. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Just the Right Time

Ten years ago now - man, that's hard to believe! - I was in seminary. It was a place where, among other things, I learned how to deliver a sermon. One of the biggest tips I've carried with me that I hope infuses every occasion when I talk about Jesus to anyone else, was to "make and preach every sermon first to yourself." What I'm about to write here I definitely have to also meditate on myself every bit as much as I want you all to. Cuz, believe me, I need to hear this too. It's so hard not to be emotional about what's about to happen with tomorrow's election.

And by the way, I know I'm not the first in this election season to promote the message that's to follow, but hopefully, as we're coming down to the last 24 hours of Election Season 2016, mine can be one of the last and thereby, one of the stronger messages, to pass by your eyes before you make it to the polls (and, if you're one of those early voters, this can still apply). 

Let me lay some Scripture on you:

"[Christ Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time." - 1 Tim. 2:6 (NLT)

This passage is incredibly timely, don't you think? I mean, isn't it amazing how ANY time is the right time to be reminded about our freedom in Christ. As the NIV Bible translates that verse's first part, we were "ransomed" by Jesus. We were held as hostages of Satan, sitting in a heap of shame on the floor of the bank vault with a vest full of C-4, and the Devil's thumb on the detonator. Then in walked Jesus, and he said, "Here, take my life instead, and let these people go free." And that's what happened. 

Don't get me wrong, these ARE troubling times for sure. We're about to watch an election unfold, the stakes of which have never been higher, between two candidates who couldn't be more polarizing, and no one really knows what to expect next. 

Many Christians fear what will happen to our country's future if Hillary Clinton is elected. And even among Donald Trump supporters there are very few who have a lot to stand on, to insist that he's a sure bet to lead us to greener pastures as a nation. We're all just holding our breaths, hoping it doesn't end up as badly as it feels like it could. 

But even though the expected implications of this election are worrisome or uncertain at best, or downright terrifying (from a political standpoint) at worst, let's all just chill out. We don't need to be truly fearful. 

At the end of the day, God is once again standing by with a banner of his own waving...and it says "I have given you true freedom through Jesus!"

That's right, at the end of tomorrow, when the results are coming in and we're all glued to our TV sets, nibbling our fingernails clean off, Jesus will still be our savior. We'll still have a message to consider that, once again, comes at just the right time. 

No matter what happens tomorrow, Jesus is Lord. No matter whether we keep our earthly freedoms, gain some back, or lose even more, Jesus is Lord. No matter whether we see our religious freedoms restricted or protected, Jesus is Lord. No matter whether our country heads down a road toward tyranny or even complete collapse, Jesus is STILL Lord. We want the best for ourselves and our children, but once this life is over, and once this world exists no more, we who place our trust for eternity in Jesus Christ will have a home with complete justice and freedom, pure love and equality, shining with real safety and prosperity, and radiating with the presence of our King. 

If the thought of your salvation, and heaven as your eternal home, hasn't been pondered heavily enough lately, PLEASE - - you owe it to yourself. It's great news, and especially right now, it's a message coming to you at JUST THE RIGHT TIME!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Interruption of Assumption

We are absolute experts in generalization. While sitting at the first red light of the day, we think about how the rest of the stoplights we encounter on our commute are probably going to do the same. The young woman who's been in an abusive and manipulative relationship with a man will often leap to the belief going forward that this is just how men are. Men are scum...none are worth my respect. We see some failed financial situations in our immediate family and think, "Well, everybody's broke. What's the point in financial planning? I'll be broke like everyone else. Give me another credit card!"

The generalities that form our stereotypes in our cultural lens are so ingrained from the gradual, suggestive socialization we undergo, that there's no avoiding the fact that we have prejudices beneath the surface. 

This week generalities have once again come bursting back to life and course through the veins of the media. Cops are dirty and racist. Black people are worth our suspicion whenever crime is in the air. If someone got shot it was probably a mistake in judgment or a flat out hate crime. If someone uploads a video to Facebook that's streaming from the middle of an incident, and is narrating themselves in the heat of the moment to their phone camera, it must be a reliable account. All black people riot or become violent when other black Americans die. No Whites respond in such despicable ways. 

We take the singular thing and we choose along with it the path of least resistance for analysis: to apply our judgment of it to ALLLLLL similar situations (and even the non-similar ones). It's lazy and hazardous, but it's human nature.

Generalities, and the assumptions that produce them, make up so much of the reality we perceive in our world. When "perception is reality" (maybe you've heard that expression), a conditioned response is expected from anyone and everyone not choosing to pause and give a second thought. This is the vicious cycle we have going on in our world nowadays. 

How can this cycle be broken?? In the midst of yet another tragic shooting in a routine pullover, and yet another outburst of outrage towards others who merely represent someone responsible for the outrage, including more police officers dead around our country, breaking this cycle seems impossible. 

I think the only real change that ever happens is the kind that happens between two people in a singular interaction. That dynamic seems so insignificant because it's just you and one other person. But remember - each of us gives off ripples into our own corners of the world. The effect of each of our ripples within our own circles is exponential. Exponential ripples create change. 

So what good ripples can we create? 

I say we need to interrupt the assumption. 

Let's break the pattern of generalities and stereotypes by doing that one little part we can do ourselves. Remember that age old quote saying "Be the change you want to see in the world"? Even though it's not divinely inspired, I believe in that expression so much as a truth. It's an empowering idea for those who are overwhelmed by feeling like there's nothing that can be done to change what's bad. And it really works. In fact, for change to take place, this is the only way. They will not stop perpetuating the stereotypes for you. They will not stop resurrecting these volatile debates by committing more crimes or targeting people out of fear or hate. They cannot change what the masses believe about you as a human individual who may not conform to what the generality is. 

Know why they can't? Cuz no one even knows who they are!! "They" is just another generality. It's the term created for reference to the unnamed, the unidentified, the unspecified...and yet the ones we somehow all agree should be the ones to make stuff better. They don't exist. Only you and I do. 

You and I can be the change that needs to be seen in the world. And we need to do it whenever and wherever possible. We need to have those conversations when they're hard, or when they come at a bad time. We need to show love to someone who is looking for a reason to add someone just like you or I to their list of evidence for their generality. If all of this hate and discord really hurts our hearts, we need to set it as part of our daily mission to go out and change generalities wherever possible. We each need to be One Man Armies (or One Woman Armies) who fight this battle against assumptions right on the front lines - the trenches that exist between us. We need to make ripples every chance we get. 

Everyone you meet... Everyone you think you know but might not know well enough... Heck, even the ones you DO know, but need to win over to this way of thinking... These are our mission field. 

Decide for yourself today that you can be an exception to the generality that's driving division in our land and in this time in history. Then go out into your daily life, right in your spot, and be an interruption of everyone's false assumptions. Show them there's a different variable out there. Show them not everyone is who they think they are. Drive home that point with your love and kindness and unconditional regard for your fellow man. It's what you'd want for yourself, and it's what God asks you to give. 

Interrupt the assumptions with the fresh reality of YOU. Start a ripple in your world. Let's see how far that can go.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

3 Reasons Christians Should NOT Boycott Target

Chances are, if you're a reader in my social circles who was already talking or posting on Facebook about a good ol' Target boycott, your guard is up as you clicked this link. I've learned to try and be more provocative with my blog titles so as to grab interest. I'm not taking a position here that's so cemented that I'll look down on anyone whose opinion opposes mine. 

That being said, I do feel strongly opposed to the phenomenon I see some Christians live out when things take place like Target's transgender policy about bathrooms. I'm talking about the following:

Meet Casey Christian (going with a nice, gender neutral name, so nobody thinks this is specifically about him or her). Casey is a lot like you and I can be, when it comes to faith. Casey goes to church almost every Sunday, and usually not out of a sense of obligation. Casey tries to avoid cussing in public, doesn't chime in with the ugly gossip or dirty sexual jokes in the workplace, and genuinely tries to instill Godly principles into the kids in Casey's family. Casey believes that Jesus Christ died to remove the guilt of the sins of all the world, including, most importantly, Casey's. Casey is truly a Christian. 

But Casey also enjoys a certain level of comfort with being acceptable in the eyes of society, with friends, with coworkers, and with relatives who aren't "hard core" about the faith thing. In fact, Casey can be a little wary of situations where putting faith out on the sleeve or speaking up about God is uncomfortable. It's not that Casey is ashamed of Jesus. It's just easier to pick the battles. 

Then Casey learns of a social development that causes a stir in the conservative and religious community. XYZ Company or Politician has decided to publicly endorse homosexuality, Planned Parenthood, etc. and now Casey feels like there's a chance to show some righteous indignation. Even though Casey hasn't spoken face to face with an unbeliever about faith in Jesus Christ in a very long time, NOW is a chance to make a Christian stand! Casey rallies as many people as possible to talk about a boycott or a picketing rally, and sure enough, within 24 hours, at least 15 people on Casey's Facebook feed have commented their agreement, or reacted with a "like"...or maybe even an angry face. 

Meet Casey. Casey is actively living out the Christian faith.

NO. Casey's not. Casey's reaction to boycott isn't the perfect response to a situation like this. Casey Christian is someone I've been in the past a few times. Maybe you've been Casey Christian too. But this is not what God has called us to do to be living a life that follows and honors him, and spreads the message of his love. 

Consider my 3 reasons why NOT to boycott Target's policy of allowing transgenders to enter and use the bathroom of their choice on Target premises:

1. Firstly, it just usually doesn't work. Folks seem to get it in their heads that when something strikes them as boycott-worthy, it'll somehow turn out like what resulted from the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Without getting into the nitty gritties of why, politically and economically, that was able to work for the colonials, suffice it to say that was NOT the same situation as a - let's face it - small percentage of Christian or political activists boycotting one of the biggest retailers in the world. As John Wesley Reid pointed out in his blog Should Christians Boycott Target, if you recall what happened with Chick-Fil-A when their COO announced his support of only traditional marraige, the response from the offended liberals only barely slowed their sales. In fact, ultimately the supporters created so much added revenue for Chick-Fil-A that the boycotting party was completely undone. There's no reason to expect any different outcome here, folks. Any dent you and I make in Target's pocketbook by not going there for our shopping needs is bound to be more than made up for by the thrilled support of transgenders and liberally minded people in general. So, unless your motive is to morally take a stand merely for conscience's sake, you'll be wasting your time. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Boycotting Target over something that's a moral stand for you, as a Christian, sets a precedent that's probably impossible for you to uphold. Think about it. If you boycott Target because you're offended by and can't agree with an ethical position held by their corporate brass (and remember, that's where the decision was made - not by cashiers and floor workers who make peanuts for wages), then who else should you boycott on similar grounds? What other major corporation has already, or will soon take a stand on a hot button societal issue that will confront Christian values? If you decide to not support the businesses run by these liberally minded individuals or boards, you'll find that the owners of most large businesses will offend you. They must be that way, to survive in a nationwide or global market, because the world has a monopoly on non-Christian values. 

Listen...Christian values are not at the heart of business anymore, whether you like it or not. Unless you identify the mom-and-pops places to shop that are local to you, where you can interview the owners, or at least more safely assume their values based on the community you're in, you're in for a long road of boycotting. There simply aren't that many Pizza Ranch, Hobby Lobby (who are actually owned by Mormons, not Christians), or Chick-Fil-A kinda businesses. 

Also, depending on the degree of Biblical foretelling about our world's current state you subscribe to, it's probably inevitable that more and more businesses will be disappointing us in this way in the coming years. I'm all for striving towards a spiritual reawakening, but the Bible also tells of how things will be, morally, in "the last days." We're IN the last days, people. We need to be realistic about our expectations of our surroundings. 

3. This isn't what Jesus called us to do. Let me qualify that statement. I'm not calling you a heathen, or ungodly, or anything more than maybe misled if you want to boycott a corporation who doesn't care about your consumer loyalty in the first place. I'm just saying it's a matter of M.O. As Christians, do we really expect things to be different in our world? Even Jesus said that as he came into the world there was darkness, and that darkness did not understand him. Are we greater than Jesus Christ, that our impact will be greater than his was?

I'm kinda wondering...When will we stop being so utterly appalled all the time, by the movements of this world? When will we come to grips with the fact that living our lives according to God's ways will set us at odds with everyone else? When will we followers of Jesus finally realize that, unless they too are pulled from the shroud of sinful rebellion and blindness by the saving work of the Spirit, THEY CANNOT DO ANYTHING ELSE but pass these policies or laws in our land. This is what life without God looks like, folks! It's foul language, sexual promiscuity, hatred and violent acts out of spite for one's neighbor, dishonesty, selfishness... It's being opposed to the things considered traditional because mankind in his own ways is about progress and building every possible tower of Babel that we can! As the philosopher Dostoyevsky said, "If God does not exist, everything is permissible." Without God's standard for living, mankind cannot be expected to do anything but create his own standard, at his own whim. That's what we're seeing. It's totally normal. It breaks God's heart, but it's normal. 

When we stop ourselves from the outrage that Target would do such a thing and just consider that, without the moral compass that God's enlightenment creates within us, we'd do THE SAME....well, then, we can calm down and look at this differently. 

Consider the life of Jesus Christ. The only time Jesus was really publicly disruptive about something was when he overturned the tables of the people doing business in the temple and drove them out with harsh words about making God's house into a "den of thieves." He was attacking not only how business was being done (thievery), but also where (in his father's house of worship). These people he drove out with a ready-made whip were religious people, not heathens. They were people who SHOULD'VE known better. 

Are Target's brass the kind of people that SHOULD know better? Without knowing them personally, it's impossible to judge their character and faith. But actions tend to show where someone stands. These sort of political actions show one's values. They are outsiders to the faith. 

Jesus was harsh with those who should've known better. Think about his interactions with the religious leaders of his lands. But he was patient, loving, and even went toward those who were on the outside of God's lifestyle. Jesus didn't picket the bazaars and parade past the trading stands on the byways ranting and raving about how evil those sellers of cloth or grains were. Even women whose method of income and business was prostitution he talked with plainly, dealt with them as people he loved first and foremost, and then spoke his word of truth when he had their attention. 

THAT is what God has called us to. Whether we gain an audience to speak the truth in God's love to corporate business people, or whether it's our neighbors in everyday paths, THAT'S where we start. God's love, passed on through the humble hands of sinners he called out of our own personal blindness, is what brings real change...and salvation! Let's be more concerned with others' salvation than our own vindication. C'mon, we already know where we stand with the Lord!

I've avoided a lot of other points in the wider discussion of implications of this policy rolled out by Target. I hope that's not taken as a sign of disregard for those issues. And at the end of the day, will I be uncomfortable with the idea of my wife or little girl being in the rest room somewhere, someday, with a man who believes, in his confusion, that he's a woman? Maybe a little. Will I be uncomfortable with the slightly higher risk of assault by someone who would abuse that bathroom policy? Yes. But I serve a God who has called me to live in confidence and boldness, not fear. And he's called me to be out on a mission, loving others and talking to them about these issues everywhere I can, so as to win them to Him. 

He's called us to BE uncomfortable. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Comeback Win

One thing I love about Easter is that it falls in springtime. Have you ever considered what it would be like if Easter came in the middle of summer, or as fall was descending? There's such beautiful, inescapable symbolism in that Easter takes place in spring. At this time of year - in fact, on this very year itself - we Midwesterners usually find ourselves being toyed with by a teeter-totter effect between wintry and spring-like weather, and depending on how March "came in" (i.e. like a lion, or like a lamb, as the old addage goes), we may have snow still on the ground at Easter, trying to make it look like spring is a ways off yet. 

But many years Easter is a triumphant display of spring winning out over the last fling of winter. Perennial flowers, green grass, and buds on tree branches are forcing their way forth from any lingering snow, bringing the landscape back to life after the deadness of winter that can seem to envelop our very spirits at times. It's as if the earth is coming back to life, and no amount of stubborn loitering by winter can prevent that resurgence. 

I love how well this dramatic phenomenon of life on earth symbolizes what my savior did on Easter. 

On the day Easter now commemorates, there were no such things as Christians yet. Only some Jews who had faithfully followed around a Jewish man from Nazareth who was the son of a carpenter turned celebrity and miracle worker, who, by the way, claimed to be the Son of God. It was the third day. He had said mysterious things in the years, months, weeks, and even days before last Friday...about knowing he would die, but that he would actually come back to life. And to their horror he was indeed taken prisoner by the religious leaders, put on trial overnight for blasphemy, and then executed by crucifixion on Friday morning. Their master and teacher, Jesus, was lain in a tomb and it was over. They might be the ones next to be slaughtered because they were witnesses of this man and might be a threat to carry on his blasphemous teachings. was the third day....and still Jesus was dead. The jig was up. They had gotten their hopes up for nothing. The longing in their souls would never be answered.  The snow would never melt. The deadness of winter would never end. It was over...

And then it WASN'T over. 

Women who had also followed Jesus with the disciples came rushing back to their place of hiding with a shocking report, having just been at the tomb where Jesus' dead body was put to rest. They'd gone just to see if the Roman guards would let them go honor him with spices and embalming...

....But the guards were GONE, the tomb was EMPTY, and angelic beings were there saying Jesus was alive again!!! Could it be???

Later that day other followers of Jesus encountered the risen and living Jesus Christ, as did many others in weeks following, and the miracle was established as fact. Suddenly, instead of Jews hoping for freedom from Roman oppression, there were Christians from all surrounding regions who'd been set from from the ultimate oppression of sin and guilt. Instead of fearful hibernation in safe houses, there were people on fire spilling out into the streets of Jerusalem and beyond, with the message that God had kept his promise in the ancient prophecies, and Jesus had proven he was the Messiah and in the process, had proven the most important fact of all:


"I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus once told another good friend named Martha, when he visited after her brother Lazarus had died (immediately following this, by the way, he raised Lazarus back to life after four days in the grave). "The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die... (John 11:25-26)."

Winter eventually ends. No matter how much snow is on the ground today, no matter what cold winds blow... Winter eventually loses to spring. 

Life gets its comeback win.

I so often feel like I'll never escape the hold sin has on my life. I feel hemmed in on every side like I'm surrounded by a stealthy mob of assassins that lurk around every corner, waiting to slice me or hit me with a poison dart as I go by, until this dark life and even darker world eventually pull me down to the curb and my spirit ebbs out to nothing. 

Each year I feel like winter will never end. But each year, sooner or later, winter gives way and the snow and ice and cold and gray skies just can't hold down the verdant and colorful life that must burst out again!

The winter of this life lived in our bodies, tainted by sin and sadness, loss and grief, pain and frustration, sickness and addiction, WILL END. And when it does, death will immediately turn us right back over to life because of what God has done for us in Jesus. When Jesus stepped out of his opened tomb and out into the morning sunlight, greeted by angels from the Father, he was giving the mic drop to end the speech of truth and freedom that his whole life and death beforehand had started. He told the rest of mankind for the rest of history that the winter of our captivity to sin was over, and he was the vibrant shoot of a flower busting out from under the shroud of snow that covered the ground. 

And now, because he beat his own death with his own life, you and me and every other follower of this risen, invincible Jesus can look forward to beating our own deaths too. 

Winter may come and take us all for a season. But there WILL BE SPRING!! There will be a comeback. 

Jesus' resurrection is OUR comeback win. 

"Death has been swallowed up in victory.
 'Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?'
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ."

- 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Heavy Love

There I sat, my confession still lingering in the air, its words too saturated with meaning and pain to be absorbed as quickly as a funny joke or piece of daily news. My tears squeezed out with the confession, but now there were tears from us both. I knew God had already forgiven me and wiped away my guilt, but now it was her forgiveness that I had to ponder and savor. 

See, what I'd just done was get the deceit out of my spirit. On Sunday morning this week we had heard a guest pastor speak about Psalm 32 and how we can become truly happy.

He read: "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit (emphasis added)." - Psalm 32:1-2

Repentance is a common idea among those who follow Jesus. Yet confession, especially to another human being, is almost taboo. It certainly can be terrifying, to say the least. Especially if that confession is meant to dismiss some "deceit" that has been in your heart as a result of keeping sin from someone who needs to know. You're probably like me, in that you feel pretty brave about many things in life, until it comes time to decide whether to make confession to another. But it's something God invites - nay, commands us to do in our lives as his followers. There's necessary therapy that's meant to come from it.

That Psalm 32 passage was somehow unpacked more powerfully than I'd ever heard it. Line by line, that pastor read and elaborated each part with a smile on his face for the liberation that each part carries...

"Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven..."  
"Yes, awesome!" I thought in response.

"...whose sins are covered..."  
"Amen! Covered so God can't even look upon them!" I thought in jubilation.

"...whose sins the LORD does not count against them..." 
"Yes, Jesus," I responded, "THANK YOU! What a relief that you and I don't have to talk about it anymore!"

"...AND in whose spirit is no deceit."
"Wait, what?...The clincher on all that is that I don't have ANY hiding or lies about it?"


"So I have to confess it and get it out in the open?"


This is where it gets painstakingly hard, doesn't it brothers and sisters? And I can talk openly about this because we all have something to confess. Know how I know that? Because we're all sinners. We all have our buttons Satan pushes. Our vices. Our addictions. Our weak spots. Call it what you will....unless you're spiritually blind to every flaw you carry, you KNOW where you could stand to get that deceit out of your spirit. 

The point our preacher for the day made next was this: "If you don't sing a "sad song" (the confession part), you won't be happy for long."

The sad song reference to confession comes from the fact that this very Psalm 32 was itself a sad song King David had written as he confronted, confessed, and found full absolution for the horrible sins he had committed (adultery, murder, false witness, lies - quite the list). 

But then Psalm 32 goes on to describe that this deceit that needs to get out to complete the picture of blessedness and happiness is something that won't be forced out of us until we realize how God is trying to show us his desire for repentance. 

"When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer."   - Psalm 32:3-4

Have you ever just felt like there's a weight you're living under in life that you simply cannot get out from? It may take on other labels at times, or be interwoven into another diagnoses, like stress, anxiety, depression even. But do you know what I mean? It's as if the world is just holding you down and something isn't right. It's God's hand, actually. He's laying it right on you, refusing to lift it until you come out of your heart-fog and accept that you have something that's chipping away at your soul that needs release. 

I have felt that way for a long time. Certain things here and there were fine. The "dailies" would come and go, but each and every night I put my head on my pillow, I knew "that one thing" has crossed my mind and plagued my conscience at some point or another. I could run but not hide. God's hand had been heavy upon me. 

After this confession was made, and all remaining hiding games and deceit had been let go of from my spirit, I began to step towards a true happiness. There's the kind of happiness we wear like a mask before others, not letting on what's really wrong. Then there's THIS. Not only had an immediate weight been lifted, but my relationship with that person who needed to hear my confession was given a deposit of improvement. And best of all, my relationship with my God began brightening again. With his hand freshly lifted, I saw it, like a light bulb brightening in my mind and heart. And that's when the tears changed from tension and sorrow and an almost indescribable joy and gratitude. 

I got it. It made sense. Once again, it was as if I had JUST BEEN SAVED by the Lord, for the very first time. 

I realized that the Lord, my God, the maker of the universe and my savior, who has 7 billion other people to attend to that he loves, had been making sure to specifically hold his hand upon me like a weight, until I would awaken to what he was doing, hear exactly the sermon message I needed, and then remove the deceit from my spirit so I could be blessed and happy. 

He did that not because he likes to nag. He did that not because he's an obsessive enforcer and wants the power trip of wringing guilt out of human beings. 

No, he did that because he loves me so much that he'd rather I live awhile (however long I chose to, really) under the discomfort of his heavy hand on top of me than lose me forever because of what sin and impenitence can do to a person if left for too long. We go through life downplaying the sins we live with, telling ourselves that as long as we can say today that our faith is still in the Lord, we'll be fine no matter what's wrong with us. But when God lets his hand, his presence, weigh heavily on us, he's trying to remind us that he knows better. He knows the foe, and our own sinful weakness, far better than we do. He knows he HAS TO hold on to us, even if with a heavy hand rather than a gentle one, lest we're torn away from him bit by bit and then lost to the separation and ugliness of hell for all eternity. It can happen to Christians, and it does happen all the time, when the heavy hand is run from with a hardened heart.

But - praise the Lord! - that will NOT be my fate, because I somehow finally heard God's spirit, through the speaking of that Scripture, whisper loudly enough that his hand was upon me too, like it had been on David's life. And now, having obeyed his call to repentance and confession, the healing could begin. And the reminder of his astounding love for me was blaring like a Newsboys worship concert over the quiet dirge of the sad song I'd just sung. God loves me that much!! He has to keep me from getting away!! He wants to bless me and make my life happy, and now I no longer stand in his way with my hiding and deceit! Praise the LORD!!

Today I read a verse of the day in an email, and it too was from the book of Psalms. Psalm 105:1 (NLT translation) said, "Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done."

So that's exactly what I'm doing! It's only too bad that the reaches of my blog site and Facebook account don't extend throughout the actual whole world. But God's goodness to me is certainly worth trying to shout out to as many as I can. 

My blog page's theme is "Mission: Possible." I like to discuss things in terms of what's possible, where we often perceive impossibility. The Christian truths can re-program our minds to see possible (with God's help) where mankind only can see impossible. Normally that centers on what's possible or impossible for me and you. But today's lesson of possible conquering the impossible has entirely to do with GOD himself. It's simply this:

It's impossible for God's love to let me down. 

When it seems impossible that I should deserve a love that goes to all lengths and trouble, that blows the mind of man in its lack of conditions and demands, God loves me anyway. He forgives me anyway. He pursues me; follows me around everywhere I go with his hand lying heavy on me, until I wake up again from my sin and deceit.

I hope folks read every one of my posts. I hope that every piece of what I put into this blog can speak truth into someone's life, lead them to God, convict them of something to change, provoke thought, etc. But THIS one I really hope everyone reads. Because when God's love is needing a spotlight, EVERYONE should see that love illuminated. My life is meant to be all about bringing him glory. So I hope every last one of you sees how my sin led to my confession and that led me back to the foot of the cross, where Jesus Christ's blood ran down that wood and my sins were forgiven for all time. I hope you all see that and rejoice. This is my Lenten testimony to God's greatness.

And I pray, for the sake of your true happiness, that you let this same thing happen to you. Dear Christians, don't hide. Let go of all deceit, bleed out your own confession. Then watch as God's mercy and unbelievable love bandage your wounded spirit and wash you clean. You will be blessed like nothing else can!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Whack-a-Mole Christianity

Ever since Sunday school I've had the picture in my head all wrong. It seemed everybody wanted to make those Pharisees in the Bible out to be such villains. How dare they get it so wrong about Jesus? How could they be such hypocrites. How could they be so blind to how much THEY needed the Savior?

I originally wanted to list all the occasions where these infamous Pharisees are recorded in indicting situations, and receiving rebuke from Christ. But here's one in particular that can serve as the prototype for most all of them:

John 8:3-5:
"The pastors and life-long church-goers brought in a woman caught stating she was a homosexual. They told her story on Facebook and said to Jesus,'Teacher, this woman was caught being sexually immoral. We all know that's against God's commands in Scripture, and we're commanded to ostracize her from our churches, stop talking to her, and shame her publicly. Now what do you say?' "

OOPS. I mis-typed that a little bit. But if you know your Bible well or looked up or Googled John 8:3-5 to see how far off I was with my hyperbolic translation, you realize I'm not taking any liberties. 

The Pharisees aren't our villainous scape goats of Sunday School stories. They are you and me (or at least they very well may be). 

What was Jesus' response to the Pharisees - the super religious people of the day - when they put him on the spot?

"If any one of you is without sin, let him throw the first stone at [the woman caught in adultery]."

**Let me make a disclaimer quickly before I proceed: I have a pretty specific crowd in mind as I write this. I'm writing this to, firstly, MYSELF, because for many years my own pride in my spiritual standing has been founded in so many silly things that don't count with God that I can't name them all. And despite the work He's done on my heart recently, I still have mental constructs and lies within my heart that I have to catch and correct daily. Next, I write this for every one of you who went to a Christian school, entered a Christian ministry position, or has a shiny church attendance record and - if you look deep down - believes this is something God pats you on the back for. I write it for the moralists and the politically active who like to throw their hat in with "conservatives" and "right wingers" and "Republicans" when it comes to social issues like abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, and every other politicized issue that's making the world think Christians just want others to behave like them. Listen, if the shoe fits, WEAR IT.**

People...we have seen this verse umpteen times. We KNOW it's in the Bible that Jesus himself stood up for someone who was openly a sinner and, instead of siding with the experts in religion and theology, whose lifestyles were so outwardly commendable, he reminded them rhetorically that they too were sinners and, therefore, had no right to condemn. 

Moments later he spoke to this woman using a gentleness and grace that is all too rare these days:

"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir." She said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." 

Jesus didn't entirely let her off the hook and convey there was nothing wrong with her sinfulness. But he showed her that, with Jesus, there is forgiveness. 

I'm at the point where I almost can't stand it anymore. In everything I read or see in society, or especially in social media (where hearts are really worn on the sleeve), my eyes and heart are bombarded with all the vitriol. The way some of us viciously attack others who disagree with us! The way we rip to shreds the intelligence level, the sanctity level, or even the level of humanity of those who oppose the Biblical viewpoint on hot topics these days -- my, my, my....I have had my moments too, sadly. But I can't handle this hatred, this animosity, and this verbal violence being a representation of what Christians are in 21st century America. 

It's gotten to the point where so many of us out there - in my close circles, or strangers on the internet, and anywhere in between - are going about their lives like being a Christian is a game of "whack-a-mole." "Oh, there's a sinner!" *WHACK!* "Oh, there's another sinner!" *WHACK!* "Oh - *gasp* a homosexual!" *WHACK WHACK!* 

We are in an age of continual outrage as Christians. And it has to stop. We are called to be witnesses, not to come out guns blazing with every disturbing headline in the news or law passed or repugnant thing you think a neighbor, coworker, or friend on social media did. 

Robert Paul Wolff said, "...Moral outrage is the last resort of the powerless." 

Is that what we feel? Do we feel powerless? Do we feel like no one is standing with us or standing up for us?

Do we realize how errant it is if we think it's US at all that are being offended? 

Make no mistake about it. We are all in the gallows to which we point our adamant fingers. 

Romans 3:23 reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace."

Both pieces of that verse are critical for breaking apart our stony, judgmental hearts. We ALL have sinned. Who are we to place one category or quantity of sin above or below another's? Who are we to think that God can forgive my sins, but someone else's need to have a floodlight cast upon them for all the world to see, like a prisoner trying to escape a POW camp? 

Apples...oranges... Homosexuals...owners of lustful thoughts... Abortionists...haters and slanderers... Potty-mouths...potty-minds... Those who don't go to church...those who go to church thinking it makes them right with God...

All. Have. Sinned. They. Have. Sinned. I. Have. Sinned. 

Your sin is just as ugly and wretched when you think it's your job to point out every other sinner we should turn up our noses against. Their sin or category or label is public content. Yours may be more private. How would you like it if it WEREN'T? I know I wouldn't!

AND....all are justified freely by His grace. It covers them. It covers you and me. We are no different. These high horses need to be dismounted from, and spanked with a "yah!" to be sent galloping off into the hills. 

The point with all of this is: studying how Jesus interacted with the sinners of his generation shows that his way of addressing sin was radically a different way from how many in the Church seem to think it should be done. And we wonder why the culture is so anti-Christian! They're simply repelled by all the anger and vehemence and moral outrage. They see us doing nothing but pointing with our fingers instead of reaching out our hands. 

What are we afraid of?

Next time one of these people you think should be an outcast is found before you in your life, what if you engaged with them? What if you invited him or her to church? What if you stopped what you were doing, or paused where you were going, and had a discussion - lovingly and humbly - about whatever they wanted to discuss? What if you became a friend to that person? What if you learned their story? What would it cost you?

I'm betting it would cost you nothing, and grant you much. 

Ultimately, that would be the only way you'd ever have the opportunity to influence them to see the truth to which you and I hold so firmly, trusting in our Lord. They sure won't come to that truth if their head is bruised from our "whack-a-mole" mallet. 

Perhaps this is all summed up best by something written by a friend of mine, who works in ministry here in the Midwest:

"In all of this, I need to remember this very important thing: It is the Gospel that changes hearts. We're in a season right now where far too many Christians are trying to "stand up for the truth" by standing in opposition to same-sex marriage, as though getting people to follow God's Law is the goal. It's not. The goal is to introduce them to Jesus. Let your life be a testament to what he has done for you, and how much you love him, and let that be what brings people to him."

We cannot ask for legislation of morality, folks. We cannot expect that our country will be granted a renaissance of godly spirituality through the functions of government. Stop thinking it all comes down to picketing, boycotting, and crossing your arms with a big frown on your face. Unless your endgame is for the world to see Christians as a bunch of legalistic grumps. But good luck talking to anyone about God's grace in your own life that way. 

Let your guard down. Have conversations. Get into the messes with people. Let your light shine (don't use a flame-thrower!). God's powerful goodness and mercy will do the work. Just be the "jar of clay" (2 Corinthians 4:7) who's good at making friends and sharing the hope you have found for yourself. Love this world as your Savior has loved you and has found you desirable enough to save. 

We are ALL saved by the same grace. Praise God for that!