Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Abandoning Father

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone." (Mark 10:18/Luke 18:19)

This past Easter, I realized that it never says in the scriptures that Jesus was flogged 39 times. He may have been, but it doesn’t say it. The scriptures point out that Paul was flogged 39 times – more than once. But not Jesus. Historical inference lead many to believe it was 39 times - but it’s not actually said in the scriptures. Look it up. And here I thought this was a given fact of the crucifixion. I was completely led to believe this “fact” (most recently by a popular movie), and it’s not even confirmable. It might not even be true. (The number of times being significant because 40 lashes was death) How often do I swallow what people say about the gospel without really testing it? I wonder…

Sometimes I hear something that someone says and immediately believe it’s true without ever testing it. I remember someone telling me that Jesus was in the direct line of David - as far as lineage goes. And this was the fulfillment of prophesy. But when I really looked at the scriptures (one in Matthew, one in Luke) - they actually say this:

Mat 1:1 “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham...”

Mat 1:16 “...and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is the Messiah”

Luke is similar - but starts with Jesus:

Luke 3:23 “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,...”

So, what’s the big deal? Well, both scriptures point out that Joseph’s lineage went through David. But, there’s a problem with that - the scriptures make it very clear that Joseph was not Jesus’ actual dad. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit - through Mary. This would “break” any real claim to the lineage that Jesus had through David. If Joseph was the actual father, then it would break the claim that Jesus was begotten of the Father - the whole virgin birth prophesy. A definite conundrum.

I’ve brought this up to many people of faith (of whom I am one) as well as quite a few Pastors, and I’ve gotten some of the most ridiculous answers to these questions. Most often, they insist that the lineage goes through Mary, and not Joseph - even when it’s pointed out. The scriptures clearly say otherwise. Then, they change the subject. Or - they might say something like, “Well, that’s just how God works - you can’t really know everything,” or “God can do whatever He wants.” While there’s some truth to those statements - these are really pathetic attempts to answer legitimate questions about Jesus.

For years, this problem really bugged me, until I realized that Jesus was adopted into the line of David - with full privilege of a first born son. That actually seemed more like His character, because later on we would be adopted as God’s kids as well - through what Jesus accomplished on the cross. It totally made sense to me. However, it really bugged me that people would avoid some “difficult” questions and come up with some really lame answers to genuine inquiry.

We often take what we hear, and don’t question it. Or, we have really difficult questions about what we’re told, but don’t investigate the answers because we think it might threaten our faith. There’s always this cloud of worry that we might ask the wrong questions - and end up going to hell. So many of us don’t ask and we don’t investigate - even when the questions are deep down inside. But what if, in some instances - we’re just dead wrong? What if our fear of being “wrong” gives us a really awful picture of God?

This will definitely get me in trouble with some - but oh well...

I’ve heard many preachers say, “Sin is separation from God, and Hell is eternal separation from God.” This is a very popular theology in today’s church. And these statements are not just made by Pastors, they’re found in many Church creeds (statements of faith). Early on in my walk in faith, I took these statements and ran with them. I believed them because someone told me to believe them. But there was a problem - I never truly investigated whether those statements were actually true! I just heard someone say those statements, and believed you could support them in scripture. And I defended them strongly whenever they were questioned. But, deep down, something seemed a little out of whack.

I’ve come to find that my initial uneasiness with this theology may have had some merit. The “sin is separation from God” statements have serious logical flaws and don’t hold up very well with the scriptures. So - let’s investigate.

Nearly everyone who is a person of faith believes really amazing things about the characteristics of God. Theologians use big words like omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, meaning: all powerful, all knowing, and always present.

There’s a definite problem with one of these characteristics when matched up with the separation statements: always present means always present. This contradicts the claim the God could be separated from anything - especially eternally. God’s characteristic of omnipresence - the very nature of who He is - makes it impossible for Him to be separated from anything or anyone in all creation because He's always present. So - it’s one or the other. Either there’s separation when we sin and God is NOT omnipresent - or - there is no separation and He is omnipresent.

Let’s take a peak at the scriptures. It says in Colossians that God holds all things together (Col. 1:17). So that begs the question: Does all mean all? Or does all mean: everything, except when a person is “sinning”. If God holds all things together - including atoms - then He’s connected to all things - literally touching everything at all times - even in the process of a person “sinning.” Where’s the separation in that?

And Psalm 119:7-12

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”

The scriptures make it pretty clear that God is everywhere - even when we’re “hiding” in our darkness. Where’s the separation in that?

In one of Jesus’ stories - He touches a leper. In those days - no “clean” person could touch one that was deemed “unclean,” or they themselves would become unclean. Yet - Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. And Jesus is the exact representation of God. It was God Himself touching the leper. Where is God’s separation in that? In fact, where is God’s separation with anyone He interacts with when He walked on the world? He touches sinners, He hangs out with sinners, He chooses sinners to be His disciples, He eats with sinners, and becomes known as a friend of sinners. Where’s the separation in that? The very act of God coming to Earth - and became one of us - where’s the separation there? God is not afraid of our wretchedness - thank the Lord!

One of my favorite scriptures:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God? Hmmmm... And God is love - as it says in 1 John. Where is the separation there? Does all mean all? Does “all creation” mean - ALL creation? Or, does the scripture mean: all creation, except where there’s sin and hell?

I really believe that what is meant by “separation from God” is really - separation from the fellowship of God. There is a HUGE distinction between these two statements. When someone talks about “separation from God”, what they imply is that God turns His back on us when we sin. He turns His back on Humanity. He becomes the Abandoning Father. This is as bad of a picture of God as you can get! God NEVER abandons us! “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

What some might be intending to say is that our sin separates any fellowship - or friendship - with God. Sin - in it’s base form - is rebellion towards God. But that action of abandoning is NOT from God - it’s from us. God doesn’t abandon us - ever. We spend our whole life abandoning God. Just look at your own life. And look at how the scriptures put it:

““There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;” (Romans 3:10b-12

All have turned away - humanity turning its back on God. Not God turning His back on us.

Much of this “separation” theology stems from Old Testament thinking - having to do with the Holy of Holies - within the temple - where God’s presence was said to reside. The argument goes that God can’t be in the presence of sin because sin would taint His perfection. So - He was in a place that only He resided - the Holy of Holies - that was only entered into one time a year by a priest who had performed all the correct rituals so he could perform the atonement sacrifice for the people of Israel. It was a big deal. It also led to the roots of the thinking “God is separate” from us. That’s one reason that Jesus was so scandalous when He showed up (especially when announcing His arrival to lowly shepherds). From some people’s perspective - God becoming a man defamed God. Jesus broke the wrong perception that “God is separate” by becoming one of us.

But let’s go back to the Holy of Holies. Can a Holy God be tainted by sin? Is God separate because He could be infected with our disease? If God could be tainted by sin - then that elevates the power of sin. Sin is not strong enough to taint God’s perfection. Look at it from a light perspective. Light can’t be tainted by darkness. Light makes darkness flee. From another angle - it’s like the leper story. God can’t be tainted by disease - He’s way too powerful. Disease flees from God. The unclean is made clean. And, in that story - it’s from a touch. (opposite of separation). Another angle - every time Jesus encounters demons in the scriptures, they freak out and think they’re going to be destroyed. Darkness shudders at the light - and ultimately will be destroyed by it. But God is never close to being tainted by darkness. It’s just not possible.

When Jesus walked the earth, He became the clearest picture of God to humanity than anything prior in history. When Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn, signifying that Jesus had fulfilled the law and God was no longer “contained” in a physical place. Do a study on the Holy of Holies and the temple curtain - and then you’ll really see the significance of the temple curtain being torn after Jesus’ death. It’s actually pretty interesting. God was no longer “separate” - but was now “free” from our prior perceptions of Him.

Actually, just the term “Holy” makes our understanding of God a little muddy. Holy means - set apart. But, set apart does NOT mean separate. These fine lines make it really tricky when talking about God. A person can have the best intentions in sharing their view of God, but end up giving a less than good picture of who God really is - without even realizing it.

There are a few New Testament backings for this “separation” theology, but they’re pretty weak in their arguments. Two are parables - the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16), and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Mat 25) are often pointed out. But both parables really talk about the separation of people groups - not separation from God. Lazarus and the rich man are separated from each other - but there’s really no mention of God, from a separation standpoint. We do see torment that the rich man is suffering - but we don’t see God turning His back on him. In fact, it was the rich man who turned his back on God. Same story in the Sheep and Goats parable. Separation of people groups - but not of God. The goats were the ones that didn’t give a rip about God.

There are one or two more arguments for separation theology within the letters that Paul writes - but, again - Paul is talking about separating people groups, not God separating Himself from us.

The biggest defense for this theology gets really screwy when taking a look at the Trinity. On the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The argument goes that Jesus felt the full brunt of humanity’s sin at that moment, and God the Father turned His back on His Son.

There’s a few problems that can be pointed out with this line of thinking. First - is Jesus God or not? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirt - three in one. Trinity thinking. If Jesus IS God, then simple logic concludes that God couldn’t ever separate Himself from Himself. It was God Himself that died on the cross. Is Jesus God? Take it a step farther - it says in Galatians that Jesus became the curse:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal 3:13)

Is Jesus God? Or does He take a break on the cross - when He died? Was God our atonement - or was it some random dude that God used, and then God walked away from at his very moment of need? That doesn’t sound like the God that I know.

So, then - why would "God" say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus was a Rabbi and He was quoting the first line of a Psalm. When a Rabbi quoted a Psalm’s first line, that included the entire Psalm. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22. Read it - it’s amazing! It describes the crucifixion - but it was written long before it ever happened. Look at the end of the Psalm - it’s not a Psalm of desperation or separation, it’s a Psalm of triumph. It ends with “He has done it!” Very close to another phrase that Jesus utters on the cross: “It is finished.” And look at these verses from that same Psalm:

For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24)

That doesn't sound like God turning His back on Jesus. To me - at least - that looks like the opposite...

People fight for separation theology like they’re fighting for life over death. It’s really interesting. The scriptures never really clearly define sin as separation from God - especially in the New Testament. It's even harder to back the "hell is separation from God" definition within scriptures. Seriously - go and try - don't take my word for it.

So - what’s the big deal? Why does this point matter?

This theology gives a very hurtful description of God. It’s not a very loving picture of our Savior. And it’s just not that accurate. I want to make it clear though - I’m not saying sin does not exist or that it’s not bad. Or that hell doesn’t exist - or is not awful. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Sin is destructive and leads to death.

What I am saying is that “sin is separation from God” and “Hell is eternal separation from God” is a VERY bad definition of sin and hell. Use something different when describing sin - like - rebellion, esteeming not, ignoring, missing the mark - etc. All these definitions point to our depravity - our movement away from God. Separation implies that God moves away from us - when that’s just not the case.

The other danger is that we begin to live our theology. If we believe that God turns His back on people when they sin - how long before we might start turning their back on sinners? To be honest - I see churches that do that all the time. Just a thought to keep in mind...

This is already pretty exhaustive, and I could go on - but I won’t. If you’ve got this far - I’m amazed - and thanks for your time. I do want to explain one reason why I wrote it.

I went to a camp and this theology was preached. In my cabin of guys, there were at least four young men that had been abandoned by their real dads. Some others had suffered abuse - some physical, and some sexual - from their fathers. The night that sin was preached, the speaker gave a clear picture of God the Father turned His back on our “badness.” He said, “sin is separation with God, and Hell is eternal separation with God.” The picture he gave of God (who is supposed to be good) was almost identical to some of these kid’s experiences with their own fathers. God was an Abandoning God - and couldn’t be near to our sin. Ugh.

Yes - the cross was coming, but his description just really gave “the Father” a bad name. Last I heard - Jesus and the Father were one. When talking about sin - can't we just stick to "rebellion" or "ignoring God" or not putting God in His rightful place? Sin is awful - destructive - not good. But God - especially when looking at Jesus - doesn't separate Himself from us because of it. In fact, He's really the only one that can touch our sin and heal us - we can't do it on our own.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

When I look at Jesus - He just blows the Abandoning Father perception to smithereens. We need to be very careful on how we share the “good” news. And we need to not be scared to ask hard questions of the faith - whether they seem threatening or not.

May God guide you as you seek Him!


Monday, June 27, 2011

For What it's Worth

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim 2:5-6)

A few days ago, I was flippin’ through the channels and ended up watching the antique road show. I know - pretty random. There was a pretty ugly vase that someone brought in because they wanted to see how much it was worth. Turns out, it was worth thousands. Yesterday’s junk became today’s fortune. Kinda the point of the show - finding out the value of some random antique with the hope that it would be priceless.

When I worked with group home kids, one of their hobbies was to get baseball and basketball cards. Every once in a while, they’d get a card worth a lot of money. They’d look up the value in their latest card magazine and cheer when they got a card that was rare or unique. But more often, they’d just toss the worthless cards away - or store them in a box, hoping that the athlete on the card would become a future superstar - making their card worth something.

In both instances - value was assigned. On the TV show, value was given by the experts. Once the experts declared the value, the object would become what it was worth. Sometimes the things that appeared worthless to the untrained eye ended up being really valuable. The baseball and basketball card’s value was assigned by expert traders. Value was given by the amount dealers could sell in the market. For the kids trading cards, the expert's opinion meant everything about a card’s value - even if they knew nearly nothing about the particular athlete - or sport.

Assigned value.

I think that’s how the gospel works. Humanity has assigned value. Our value has been assigned by God Himself - the one and true expert. And the price that God paid was more than all the wealth in the entire universe. The price that He paid was His very own life - and He sacrificed it willingly on our behalf so that we might become part of His family.

We just don’t see each other that way. We rarely assign that kind of value to each other. Especially when we're different. I wonder what the world would be like if we did?

Our value isn’t dependent on what we do - or how we act. It’s not dependent on our behavior, or our intelligence, or knowing the right things, or living the right kind of life. Our value isn’t dependent our what the media says, or what products we buy, or how much money we earn, or what we do for a living. It’s not dependent on what we look like, or how we dress, or what car we do or do not drive. Our value isn’t dependent on our family, or our friends, or our enemies, or our country, our race, religion, creed, or cause.

Our value is completely dependent on who God is - to His core. Our value has been assigned by God through what He has done through His life, death, and resurrection.

And If we don’t know who He is - then chances are we won’t really understand how valuable humanity is - and we’ll keep treating each other like crap.

The good news is that He has made Himself known - He is knowable.

May we all come to know our true value - assigned by God Himself - and may we value one another as He has valued us - through Jesus.

Have a great day!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Light Shines in the Darkness...

(Writer’s note: I hesitate writing my blatant opinions about certain topics concerning God because it puts me in the category of “I’m right, you’re wrong” type of thinking - which I normally don’t like. However, there is a level of frustration with certain types of theology that I come across from day to day. Some “theology” gives God a bad name. This is an opinion piece that is critical of a somewhat mainline theology of which I’m probably in the minority. With that being said, this is just a blog - feel free to disagree with me.)

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen. 2:16-17)

There’s a scary theology that’s often preached from the pulpit at a lot of churches that I’ve come across. And it has everything to do with humanity’s view of good and evil. It also has a lot to do with value. I know that just writing these thoughts down will get me in trouble with some - but I guess I don’t really care.

I recently had a lively conversation with someone that doesn’t believe that humanity has value. Her view of people was that they were just bad - evil to the core. When I tried to explain to her that God showed our value by paying the price on the cross - she looked at me as if I were an alien. She didn’t believe that God died to show our value, but to simply save us from ourselves.

While there’s truth in both propositions (He came to save us and give us value) it got me thinking about how our theology (whether we know it or not) shapes how we see each other and how we see God. To make a blank statement that humanity is evil (or good) would miss the point of the garden story. We just can’t make that judgment. According to the scriptures - we can only know that God is good. In our limited judgment, all we can look at is what God says about humanity.

In the first chapter of the Bible - after creating all things, including people - God looked at His creation and said that it was very good. Those aren’t my words - read the story. The first judgment by God is that creation (humanity included) is good. And He created people in His very own image!

Now, it’s important to note that God isn’t a liar. What He says is truth. He is God - He dictates whatever He wants. He said it - “good.” Most people seem to ignore that part of the story.

That’s because then there’s the rebellion in the garden. Humanity ignored God and went their own way. The actions of people were bad - sin entered the picture - and that ultimately led humanity to death. But that doesn’t reduce the value that each of us have. In fact - God’s atonement (the death of an animal) was a foreshadow of the ultimate atonement (the cross) that was later to come. God didn’t destroy Adam and Eve - he saved them - because, for whatever reason, He saw value in them. He showed that humanity was valuable - and that He loves us. And He’s been showing it throughout history ever since.

If our theology tells us that humanity is bad/evil - then that’s how we’ll initially see people. It’s hard to value someone when we think of them as evil or bad. In fact, we’ll begin to think that they should get what they deserve - the whole “go to hell” type mentality - especially when people are really “bad.” These judgments usually aren’t blatant - but they creep into people’s way of thinking and shape how they see the world.

Judgment rears it’s ugly head - and with it comes a sense of superiority. But this type of judgment is the fruit from a tree that humanity shouldn’t have eaten from in the first place. We should all just let God be God. We should listen to and trust His judgement.

Jesus said,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Mat 7:1-2)

That almost sounds like scary news until you flop Jesus’ saying back to who He is. God is love and His judgment is grace. What if grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love were the measure that we used when seeing people - all people? If we judge with grace - won’t we be given grace - by that standard?

Again - look at what Jesus says:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mat 6:14-15)

If our measure is forgiveness - then we are forgiven. Period. This is actually a very profound thought - because we often judge others with condemnation, not forgiveness.

I definitely have more to say, but I'll save it for later...

May we learn to forgive one another, and may God’s good news actually be good news lived out in our lives!

Have a great day!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Christian Values...

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

According to the scriptures - God highly values humanity. He felt people were worth the price of His very own life. Not good people - but “sinners” - everyone. God highly values every person on the planet - whether they know it or not. He values the faithful and the atheist, the moral and the immoral, the heterosexual and the homosexual - He died for all. He paid the price for all. He died for the Indian who practices Hinduism, the Asian who follows the way of Buddha, the Middle Eastern who follows the Quran, the Morman who rejects the Trinity, the Agnostic who doesn’t care, and the Christian that struggles with legalism. I'm not trying to be too loose with generalizations, but don't miss the point: He died for all.

It’s not to say that there aren’t lost people. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about value. There’s not a person that’s alive that isn’t worth the price that Jesus paid on the cross. Yet, so often, I’ve noticed that many of Jesus‘ followers tend to value “correct doctrine” over people.

If Jesus really was God in the flesh, then He was the most “right” person to ever exist - period. His “doctrine” was perfect. He was more “right” or “correct” than anyone’s idea about Him could ever be - because He was God. And God was condemned to death on a cross for other people’s wrong idea about Him. And He didn’t destroy those that condemned Him. He didn’t punish them. In His great humility, He let them kill Him.

He could have gotten out of death. He holds together all things - including the very atoms that made up the men who nailed him on the cross. He could have proved - without a shadow of a doubt - that He was correct - “right”, and those that were killing Him were wrong and misguided. But He didn’t. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He showed His love for humanity as He was condemned to death.

I think that prayer wasn’t just for the people nailing Jesus to the cross. I think it was for all of us - humanity. We just don’t know what the heck we’re doing most of the time. And our values are so messed up.

People tend to value “belief” over love. But God showed how much he valued everyone - including those that disagreed with Him - through His life, death, and resurrection. The sad thing is, we take what He did on the cross and turn it into an argument - a position. We, often, turn His love for all people into a - “you’re in, you’re out” - kind of religious system. These positions tend to feel very arrogant and condescending to those people that are in the “out” group. Jesus values and loves the “out” group. He loves and values all of us.

Jesus said:

“...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

It’s easy to serve someone that we value. We will bend over backward for those that matter to us. It doesn’t matter what they believe, or don’t believe - if we value someone, we’ll serve them. If we don’t value them, we won’t serve them.

This begs the question for all of us: Do we value people? Do we value those we disagree with. Do we value “sinners”? Do we even value our enemies? Because Jesus valued all of those people! This is convicting to me because I’m not a very good servant. Maybe it’s because my values are all screwed up.

Jesus came to serve - He values us! And He didn’t just serve, He gave up His life for us as a ransom. Why can’t we do the same for each other?

The scriptures say:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus...” (Phil 2:3-5)

What if “Christian values” were less about behavior and more about people? What if people were valued - whether they believed the “right” things or not? I wonder what the world would be like if everyone knew they were loved unconditionally - not just from God, but from the people that follow Him?

I think, maybe, it might look a little like: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven...” part of Jesus’ famous prayer. Heaven on earth - God showing how much humanity is valued through us.

May we learn to see and love each other as God sees and loves us!

Have a great day!


Friday, June 17, 2011

The Day That Death Died...

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)

I wonder how different death looks to God? We look at death with finality. Game over. Our finite minds can only grasp what we’ve lost - and to us, it looks like the end. But what if we had it all wrong? What if it was really only the beginning?

C.S. Lewis compared our everyday life to the cover page of a novel, and when we died, the real story would begin. To an infinite God - the short span of our lives would actually be shorter than a title page. And yet, it’s all we know. It’s all we can grasp. It’s all we’ve ever seen. All of us - everyone of us - has to face death one day.

God created the world. He is good. And yet - there’s this “problem” of death. Death happens, and no one can escape it. Even God Himself died on a cross.

But the cross was part of the plan from the beginning of time...maybe death is part of the plan for all of us too. What I mean is - maybe our deaths aren’t “random” - but actually part of the story He’s telling through us.

What if what we saw as a curse was in fact good. What if our way of seeing things was so skewed that we missed out on what God might actually be doing through death. What if death actually was part of God’s plan?

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. It’s not to lighten the fact that death is terribly awful. It is! Jesus, Himself, even wept about it. But He also marched toward it. He knew it wasn’t the end. He ultimately conquered it because He’s the God of life.

But, we’re not God - so we get scared, sad, and angry. It’s hard to trust God when death is in our future. It’s something we see every day throughout the world. Death is the one thing that every person has in common.

Death, to us, just seems so wrong.

But we only have a limited perspective. God is so much bigger than we can imagine. He created everything - from the the tiniest of atoms (including sub-atomic particles) - to the massiveness of ALL of the galaxies in the universe. The scriptures say that He holds ALL things together (Col. 1:17) He is so beyond our thoughts - our ideas - our mind. The only way we could possibly know anything about Him is if He revealed Himself to us. And that’s exactly what He did - through Jesus.

Jesus showed us that God is good. He showed us that God is like a good father who forgives His wayward son and throws him a party with loud music and dancing (luke 15). God has mercy, He forgives, and He is love. He’s the creator of life. And He loves us - His kids.

If God is good (I mean - GOOD!) and He loves us like a child (His very own child) - and He’s really is in control of life and death, then - honestly - what do we have to fear? His love is what’s waiting on the other side of death. God is greater than death.

I heard about a tragedy today. An unbelievable tragedy. A death that happened in an instant. Yesterday, there was life and joy. Today, death and grieving.

I can only imagine the pain that friends and families will have over the next few days - let alone years. From what I know about God - Jesus weeps in the midst of everything that they’re dealing with right now.

But God’s weeping will transform an ugly death into new life. And new joy. Because Christ is life! And the true story has begun once again for one of God’s favorite kids. A story that God has been writing since the beginning of time. A true love story that will never end.

I just wish the family and friends could see it on this side of death. I pray that God might reveal it to them to ease their pain.

This is my hope for all of us: that maybe we’ll begin to understand that death is not the end - and that God really is good. Maybe that can be motivation enough to get to know Him a little better - in the here and now. And maybe, as we walk through life, we can learn to trust Him - even when God leads us through the valley of death.

Have a great day!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

God's judgment

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

We all have personality, lifestyle, and character flaws. Truthfully, we’re a sinful people. I know that I am.

The difficult thing about our imperfections is that we’re usually pretty blind to them. Or, we see them, but we ignore them. And sometimes, even when we try to change - the task becomes impossible. So we look at the darkness in others and judge them - acting as if we’re completely innocent. We are just flawed people pointing our fingers at other flawed people - all the while worried that others will caste their judgement on us if they really knew the truth.

We worry about what others think, and this leads us to worry about what God thinks. Many of us believe deep down inside that He’s actually just pissed off and angry at us. Many live under the deep belief that God is a furious and vengeful God. This creates fear of judgment and condemnation - and doesn’t lead to peace. We’re scared of God’s judgment.

But, there’s a crazy twist to the truth about God. The good news is actually God’s judgment! Seriously, it’s crazy good news. Life changing good news. His judgment is His amazing love and grace for us! He judges humanity worthy enough to die for - worthy enough to give Himself completely - worthy enough to give up His very life for. His judgment is that people - all people - are valuable!

On top of that, the perfect One uses the most imperfect people to share His judgment of love and grace. Proof enough is in the scriptures - even way before the cross. Look at how He uses messed up people! It’s crazy. It seems like God’s favorites tend to be the most “broken” people.

Here’s a few examples:

Abraham pimped out his wife to a couple of rulers that he was afraid of, and also had a illegitimate child. Moses - murdered someone and ran away from the consequence, and he didn’t return to his homeland for forty years. David - slept with another man’s wife then had the husband murdered so he could have the wife all to himself.

These are the three giants in the Hebrew scriptures. Abraham was the father of the faith. Moses was the giver of the law. David was the anointed King (a man after God’s own heart).

God uses the broken. He reveals Himself in the weak. It almost seems as if disfunction is a prerequisite to be used by God. There are tons of examples within the scriptures, but these are some of the pillars in the faith! They were incredibly flawed people - and were completely accepted and loved by God. His judgment is good news for us! He loves us in spite of us.

I wonder what the world would be like if people loved others like God loves us? I wonder how the world would be if we judged others like God judges us - with mercy and grace?

What if Christians were thought of as judgmental - but that meant something different than how it means today? What if more and more Christians judged people with love, mercy, and grace? Cuz God’s judgment is like that. He’s a God who forgives our multiple flaws and accepts us as we really are deep down inside - and still chooses to work with us.

That’s incredibly good news for messed up people like me. I hope it’s good news for you too.

Have a great day!


Thursday, June 9, 2011


The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph. 3:17

I had the opportunity to work with (SED) severely emotionally disturbed kids at a few different group homes over the years. These young kids had been through the worst of the worst - abandoned, abused, and everything in between. One of the houses that I worked had really young kids - from age 7 to 11. In their short lives, their idea of love was seriously distorted.

At night, the kids would act up the worst. Many of them had dealt with their parent’s addiction problems and the cycle of abuse most often happened at night. This was because most of their parents would drink or get high after work. It was like clockwork - at about seven at night - all hell would break loose. I loved the kids, but they were a handful.

One kid would attack everything in sight. We’d literally have to put him in a basket hold every time. He’s spit, kick, punch - anything and everything, until we held onto him. The staff would write notes to each other about their shift, and we all noticed this cycle, day in and day out. We realized that the only place he really felt safe was when someone held onto him in the basket hold. It was really the only place that he got appropriately touched prior to getting to the group home. We decided not to use the basket technique anymore and just kept him in a time out space - so he wouldn’t go crazy. It worked. After a week, he stopped acting out (for the most part.)

He had just wanted to be held. All he really wanted was human touch. He was alone. His parents were gone. He was being raised by “staff.” And his way to be held was to act out inappropriately. It was a big eye opener for me. We all need to be loved - but our past can really jack us up. This seven year old acted out in a very obvious ways. His need for love was easy to see. Many of us have learned to hide our need for love - but we’re really hurting inside. Maybe that's why so many people do so many crazy things...

At bedtime, I’d sit between the rooms with my guitar and sing songs. Sometimes I’d just gently finger pick songs until the kids fell asleep. And I’d pray for them. I’d pray that they might see how good God is - even in the midst of their tragic lives.

The verse from Zephaniah really helped me during this time. These kids inspired me to memorize it. The statements in the scripture are amazing! God is with us - and He saves. He takes great delight in us. That’s unbelievable. He takes great delight - in us? And He quiets us with His love? When all hell breaks loose in life - His love can be our peace when we let it. And He rejoices over us with singing? Can you imagine God - who created music - rejoicing over us - singing His song - His love song? I wonder what that sounds like...

I’d often imagine God singing over these children as they slept - rejoicing over them. It was always part of my prayer.

And when life got hard for me - I’d often pray that He’d let me hear His song too - His lullaby - as my eyes closed for the night. I’d pray to hear the music from His soul.

So - that’ll be my prayer tonight. May we all get to hear His wonderful song and may we trust that He’s got our best interests in His hand.

His grace is sufficient and His mercy is new every morning.

Have a great day...


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Battle Inside


The easiest part of life is making excuses.

Let me rephrase that – the perceived “easiest” part of life is making excuses. I can find a million and one things to do to avoid what actually needs being done.

I can have really bad excuses

“I slept in.”

“I’ll start tomorrow.”

“I already did part of it, so that’s good enough.”

– or just the opposite – amazingly creative excuses. Some of my excuses might even be true!

“My kids are sick”

“I don’t have enough money”

“I don’t have enough time”

“I’m too busy.”

“I have other plans.”

But excuses are the prison I lock myself within that robs me from achieving my goals.

One of the reasons we allow excuses to imprison us is that our desire for long term change is too low. Desire can alter behavior. What’s at battle within our very heart is that our desire for immediacy (the “right now” phenomena) is too strong – and our desire for persistence is nearly non-existent.

Some of this comes from our culture. We live in a “right now” type of world. I remember, one day, going to a drive through at a fast food restaurant and the wait time was about 10 minutes. I didn’t really care, and had nowhere to go, but it was a long wait at the window for fast food. The server apologized profusely, and ended up giving me my food for free!

Now, I have no problem with free food, but this type of cultural push makes us believe that if we wait too long – we deserve things for free. Entitlement creeps into our way of thinking. We have been conditioned into thinking that if something is fast, it’s good, but if something takes time – it’s not worth it.

This plays right into making excuses. Lifelong goals are not achievable with short term thinking. Everywhere our culture pushes the “right now” doctrine on us. This belief is as powerful as a religious belief. It also steers us into making excuses that derail our ability to achieve our dreams and goals.

The "right now" doctrine is dangerous. It's definitely a habit that's crept into my way of thinking, and it's a hard one to fight. Persistence is the weapon - but mine seems to be pretty dull.

May God give me greater desire for long term goals, and less desire for the "right now" mentality. :-)

Have a great day!