Friday, July 19, 2013

A Great Confession


 “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy...”  Ezekiel 16:49

I’ve been going over the stories of the Old Testament recently, and once again, it’s been enlightening.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was really intriguing.  I always look at the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) through the lens of Jesus.  After all, there’s no God hiding behind Jesus - so, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is, in fact, Jesus.
Outside of the mental gymnastics of reconciling an all loving - always forgiving - merciful God with burning sulfur, destruction, and death - there’s definitely some revealing about how we live and relate to God within this text.
There’s not a lot of details that are given about these cities prior to the destruction.  There’s a few references to the leaders earlier in the scriptures, but there’s not much about the people.  
The story goes (major paraphrase):
There’s a declaration of destruction by some angels to Abraham before they enter the city, an argument from Abraham to God about the injustice of destroying the righteous along with the unrighteous, the story of Lot saving the angels from some serious backside pain (hence the term: sodomy), the rescue of Lot from the cities, and the wife turned-to-salt episode.  Super short summary - the whole story is here:  Genesis 18-19
One observation:  God had already determined to destroy these cities before the angels were harassed.  That incident was just a reinforcement of what God already knew.  In fact, it was the town’s total disregard of God in the first place that put the town in danger.  To them, there was no God.  They replaced the God of love with the god of themselves.
When a person becomes their own “God” - or “King” - everything becomes subjective (think - “eye of the beholder”).  It’s funny, because our postmodern age is totally based on subjectivity.  The phrase “everything is relative” is a perfect example of our current bent towards subjectivity.  
Now - that’s a lot of big words that simply mean - in a rudimentary way:  Your truth is fine with you, my truth is fine with me.  But they’re not the same.  And that’s ok.  And even where our truth contradicts one another - that’s ok - because my “world” is different than your “world.” I choose to believe my own rules about life - irregardless of what you believe - and I won't bother you if you don't bother me.
Sound familiar?  
But that’s humanity.  That’s been going on for all ages.  It should be no surprise to hear statements like that.  
I believe we have more in common than we think we do.  I believe we’re all in the same boat - and this bent towards subjectivity - in a roundabout way - proves it.
I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that left to our own devices - WE ARE the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We may not act out in the sexually deviant way that the story with the angels portrays (raping strangers...ummm - no) - BUT - we are often arrogant (prideful), overfed, and unconcerned.  And many of us don’t help the poor and the needy at all.  
In other words - the “sin” of Sodom is my sin too.  I can often have total disregard to God.  I usurp His throne every day so that I may be the “God of my own world.”  I have more food than I know what to do with - on most days.  And I waste a lot of it.  I’m often unconcerned with people other than myself.  I cry out to God for things like “happiness” and “material possessions” that I don’t have without a thought to the person that really needs help.  And - I tell myself that I am poor because I compare myself with others - when the really poor (those on the streets, or in other countries - those without the basic necessities of life, like food - etc.) aren’t even given a passing thought.
Jesus said, “Whatever you do unto the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me.”  He mentions these things:  feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, clothing those that need clothes, visiting the sick and in prison.  These are things the people of Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t do at all - and look at the result.  If you read the story in Matthew - the result for those that don’t do anything is similar.  Lake-of-fire kind of stuff.
What we do matters.  Our actual actions - matter.
By the way - these are not theologically “correct” ideas.  This isn't about doctrine.  These are concrete things that people can actually do.  There’s no believing the “right” things in His statement.  You do these things - or you don’t.  As one wonderful writer expressed:  Love does!
But - I confess - I often don’t.  My behaviors might not be on par with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah - but my “sin” is the same.
I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. 
What if - how we loved the least of these - was, in reality - how much we really loved God?  
Ouch.
By the way - this is not a surprise to God: who we are.  I think His desire is that we’d start noticing Him and slowly surrender the throne back to Him.  There are plenty of scriptures that point to this idea - Proverbs 3:5 and Hebrews 12:1-2 are two that come straight to my mind.  And His march towards the cross (foreshadowed in the Garden of Eden story - the beginning) is further evidence.
I’m not trying to browbeat myself - or others - with a “sin” talk.
BUT
I do want to take a sober look at the truth about myself.
Adam and Even - in the garden story - covered themselves and blamed the person next to them about their own behavior.  Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.  We’ve been blaming everyone - but ourselves - since the very beginning.
I’m more wanting to admit/hold up a sign saying “I am the problem”.  I’m the problem as much as anyone else.  
"...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags"  Isaiah 64:6
I want to break the “Adam and Eve” cycle.
God provided a covering in that Adam and Eve story.  An atonement - death to an animal - that was made into clothing.  Death to life.
And He does the same for us - as the Lamb of God:  "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27)
We are accepted, loved, and valued by God due to His actions.  It is finished.
But I’m still in the midst of this rebellion.  I still fight God.
I do want to live in the good works that God created me for, but I have this annoying propensity to act as if I’m my own God.
It’s no wonder that the people of God were named Israel: he wrestles/struggles with God.
What a daily riddle and mystery that we live in!  So fascinating.  May we know the freedom of surrendering "our" throne to the One who truly knows us best...
Have a great day!
Jer

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Generational Behavior


“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
A few years back, I went to counseling with my now ex-wife.  It was our last ditch effort to save a marriage that was already over by the time we went.  I don’t think there’s any percentage breakdown of fault when it comes to divorce (or a successful marriage, for that matter).  I believe it’s a shared 100%, so when people ask, I tell them we were both at fault, 100%.  It’s truly one of the only things we did really well together: get divorced. (only teasing...kind of.)
One of the things that came up in counseling that has really intrigued me ever since was the fact that much of my disfunction in relationships comes from the way I was raised.  I’m not faulting my behavior on my parents (my parents are awesome) but I did learn a lot about conflict resolution, communication, and how I see intimacy from them.  
My parents are alcoholics.  At night, they were embarrassing.  I’d have full conversations with my mom that she didn’t remember the next day.  My dad would sit in his chair and nod off to sleep.  Sometimes he’d wake up from a slumber and mumble random things incoherently.  This was my daily life.  At around 6pm every night - it was like this.  So, consequently, I never invited people over to my house.  I was always the friend that went to other people’s homes.  And I’d NEVER talk about this - not even to my brothers.  But we all knew.  We just hid it.
Every so often, the facade would crack.  I remember the first time my mom and my ex met, and my mom gave her a glass of wine.  My mom’s idea of a glass of wine was to keep it full at all times.  My ex was drunk with one glass of wine!  haha.  But - that was life.  I remember another incident that happened with a friend of mine who worked for my dad.  My friend came over at night to drop something off for work and my dad was pretty much sloshed.  I had to speak for my dad - in embarrassment - and find a way to get my friend on his way.  Sadly, these moments happened all too often.
Thankfully, I did learn one positive thing from this experience.  I don’t drink - barely at all.  But - I definitely learned some bad habits:  I keep people at a distance.  I don’t share difficult problems, I brush things under the carpet.  I retreat when in conflict.  And a hundred other little things.
It’s not to say I didn’t learn some very good habits:  I’m pretty darn loyal, even when things are bad.  I can be a very good verbal cheerleader - coach.  I can usually make people laugh.  And a hundred other little things.
Our parents are very influential - good and bad.
Having worked in ministry for most of my life, I’ve noticed that kids pretty much resemble their parents.  There are differences, and there’s rebellion - but for the most part, a successful parent will have successful kids - and - unsuccessful parents will bread disfunction.  I’ve noticed this trend too, kids that got pregnant early in life (say - High School) end up having kids that get pregnant early too.  It’s not a science, but it is almost weird.  Yes yes - there are exceptions, but surprisingly, it’s more common that I would have ever thought when I was younger.
I had one student tell me that her parents were super strict and never had any fun when they were kids.  Little did she know that I knew her parents in High School and they were completely wild!  They were strict for a reason - they had lived through their experience and, now, had quite a few regrets.  They were only trying to protect their kid.  I almost laughed out loud when she told me that.
But, here’s the funny thing - the parents that I knew in High School had parents who were super strict too.  A cycle of behavior passed down from one generation to the next.
Having come off an all bros trip in Tahoe with some old High School friends, one of the themes that kept coming up was how much our past - our parents - really influenced us.  There were many conversations about trying to figure out how to not live the dysfunctional behaviors that we picked up along the way.  Some of those behaviors are so subtle, it’s as if they’re not even there.
I have to admit, when I went to counseling - I didn’t even know why I behaved in certain manners.  I knew things weren’t working in my relationship - and I knew I was at fault with a lot of it, but - I had no idea that it was so deeply ingrained.  
One common theme in my blogs is the reality that God loves us - values us - accepts us - in spite of our behavior.  Unconditional love.  He loves the good, bad, and ugly.  That’s pretty easy to grasp - and will probably come up again in a future blog.
But, today, I’m curious about the change.  Or - the transformation.  
One of my friends said, “If it wasn’t for God - Jesus - I’d be exactly like my dad.”  Funny thing is - he’s a lot like his dad.  I don’t doubt for a second that God hasn’t changed him in a positive way - but - it’s still there - the same dysfunction.  
And it’s there in me too.  I wonder if this is a bit of that “thorn in my side” kind of thing?  I don’t know.
This is the subject that has been rolling around in my head lately.  How do we break the cycle?  How does one change something he/she can’t actually see?  As much as Christ loves us, values us, and accepts us 100% - what role does our behavior actually play in following Jesus?
Those are my thoughts to ponder today...
Have a great one!
Jer   

Friday, July 5, 2013

Abstract God


The other day, I asked this question to a bunch of high school friends: 

“What’s God like?”

The answers ranged from “He’s compassionate” to “He’s sort of indescribable.”  Many of the answers I heard were the typical kinds of words that you can hear at any church gathering.  But with every answer, I pushed back and asked, “What does that mean?”  I got a lot of blank stares in return.  I think I even heard crickets a few times.   

Other answers had to do with how a person felt - “You just kind of know inside” or “He’s that voice inside that tells you what’s right and wrong.”  Interesting...

Basically, what I heard was a lot of abstract words and subjective ideas about what God is like.  Is that all He is?  Complicated words?  Our own personal idea of who He is?  Our conscience?

Then I asked, “If you wanted to know what God was like - where would you look?”  Believe it or not, this kinda stumped them.  After a few weak answers, one student did say “the Bible” - but it had the ring of a “quiz book” answer without much confidence behind it.  And “the Bible” is - in itself - a very complicated answer.  But that’s a whole other discussion.

Now, I understand that these HS friends are new to thinking about God.  The fact that they even have curiosity about Him is remarkable.  But, in spite of their youth, their answers and thoughts are pretty common among followers.  I’ve talked to enough people of faith over the years to know that my HS friends‘ answers are the same types of answers that people of any age would give.  

I even had a Pastor friend of mine say “Trying to describe God is like trying to describe heaven.”  No joke.  He’s a Pastor - and he has a hard time describing God without using the abstract. 

I just don’t think it’s that difficult.  I don’t see it the same way. 

God is abstract - for sure.  I don’t blame anyone for thinking that at all - I often think it myself.  He is quite abstract.

But.

“The Word became flesh...”  (John 1:14)

The abstract became concrete.

The intangible became tangible.

The invisible was made visible.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15)

A few years ago, I heard a quote that helped me with this question of “what’s God like?”.  It’s always seemed to point me in the right direction.  I have no idea where the quote came from - but I’ve shared it with people countless times.  It also helps me with the fuzzy idea of the trinity.  And the quote is really simple:  

“There’s no God hiding behind Jesus.”

The fullness of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. (Col. 1:19)  

So.  If someone asks the question - What’s God like?  I simply point to Jesus.  

And when abstract words come up to describe God (like compassion) I’ll tell a very tangible story of when Jesus displayed compassion (woman caught in adultery, Samaritan woman, etc.)  

This works with every abstract word used to describe God.  

God is humble (Jesus washes the disciple's feet, born of Mary/Joseph, baptism, etc) God is powerful (Jesus calms the storm, casted out legion, etc)  God is loving (Jesus healing multitudes, cross, etc.) God loves everyone (Jesus loving women, sinners, Samaritans, His enemies, etc.)

On - and on - and on.  The Word, did in fact, become flesh....

What’s God like?

Well...   “There’s no God hiding behind Jesus.”

So - look at Jesus - and you will discover exactly what God is like.  And that’s good news for everyone - because God is really good and He wants to be known!  - (and not in an abstract way)

Have a great day!

Jer