Only

 “Is it not wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside ourselves?” – Martin Luther

Have you ever heard of “The Sunday School Answer”?

It is the one answer that seems to be the answer to any question asked in Sunday School. Do you know that answer? It is always “Jesus”. No matter the question, the answer must be Jesus, right?

That may be cute for kids, but, as grown people, we have spiritual questions where the answer couldn’t be that simple. How many silent moments are a cacophony of conundrums where simple, childhood answers are naïve and tossed in the garbage like scrawled notes of rejected possibilities?

How many of us have secretly feared the silence of this question – Am I really accepted before God?

The weight of eternity, the fear of rejection, and suspicion of conditional salvation haunts our silent moments. How do we answer it? We begin going down our lists. We compare ourselves to others. We come to our own rescue as the defense lawyer we need.

Yet, we may forget the rejected answer crumpled on the floor.

As a child

Why do we rejected the Sunday School answer of Jesus?

In essence, it is too simple and easy. We know life isn’t that easy or straight forward.

We forget what Jesus says in Luke 18:16-17 – The Kingdom of God belongs to those who accept it as a child.

Our faith belongs to the heart of a child. Yes, that includes the simplicity of a child’s answer. But, what does that look like?

Most time when Christians define what faith looks like, two answers come to mind. First, it is a long prepared answer that is a complicated as taking a systematic theology course. The second answer is usually a jumbled jigsaw puzzle of images and verses leaving more uncertainty than the “clarity” found in a presidential debate.

Luke 18:15-17 gives us a glimpse at what the childlike faith is. We see children approaching Jesus for a blessing. However, the disciples scold them and try to move them away so they wouldn’t bother Jesus. But, it is the disciples who are scolded. Jesus opens his arms up for those who approach him.

The faith of a child is the faith that approaches. We see this time and time again in the Gospels. The people who came to Jesus for healing came in faith. Faith in Jesus caused them to approach Jesus. You didn’t see them prove themselves in order to be healed. You didn’t hear the parents fussing over their children messing up their clothing or saying embarrassing things. Instead, you see them approach.

In order to accept the simple answer, we must realize that faith is simple too. It is a simple approach to Jesus believing he is who he says he is and will do what he says.

The new has come

When it comes to answering the question of our acceptance before God, we are quick to reject the childlike faith, Sunday School answer. Why? We live in a mindset of proving ourselves over and over that we forget that God isn’t like that.

In Mark 14:12-26 we see something new. Jesus creates a new covenant. In the Old Testament, the covenant God set up with his people was based on conditions, blessings, and curses (Deuteronomy 28). Laws, regulations, and standards became the way man related with God. Yet, when Jesus inaugurates the new covenant in the Gospels, it is based on his body and blood. The sins of many are forgiven because Christ is poured out and offered as a sacrifice. No more conditions required.

How do we know this? Mark 15:37-38 shows us the death of Jesus causing the curtain separating man from the presence of God being torn in twain. This means that in coming to God, we no longer have the conditions of the old covenant acting as our bodyguard weeding out who can approach God and who cannot. Instead, we are invited to boldly take Christ’s hand as our advocate and stand in the presence of God (Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 2:1-2).

We can forget our self-constructed defense case. The old has passed away. The new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ has given us a new life. We cannot relate to God in our new life by referring to the rules of the old life. We have to do everything in a new way. This is what Jesus means in the passage about the new wine and new wineskins (Luke 5:37-39).

The old answer to our acceptance before God is our complicated defense case. The new and better answer is the childlike faith approaching Jesus. The new answer is the Sunday School answer.

THE WASTED SACRIFICE

Even though the Sunday School answer screams only Jesus, we still want our defense case. We want to stand before God proving why he should accept us. We also want other Christians to prove to us why God should accept them. Our faith doesn’t stand on the single-focus of Jesus.

What do we focus on as the basis of our acceptance before God? The lists we create. I know churches who believe you are not a true Christian unless you only use the King James Version. I have met believers who question salvation if you attend a church that uses rock music, believes in differing end times theologies, and a whole host of other issues. Are those the things that make someone accepted before God?

In the new covenant, what was the sacrifice in order to tear the curtain in two? Was it our payment or Christ’s payment?

What happens if we continue in this idea that acceptance before God rests on us? Paul tells us in Galatians 2:17-21. First, we are called a sinner for rebuilding the old system that has been torn down (v. 18). Second, we see Christ’s death and resurrection as a waste (v. 21). We treat Jesus as a waste of God-given grace. We do not need him, because we are good enough on our own. We spit on God and become our own just and justifier rather than letting God be the loving judge he is.

Only means only

Jesus is the answer to our concern over our acceptance before God. Only Jesus. Only his blood. Only his new covenant. Only him.

“Preach it! I believe that Jesus is my only way to Heaven!” Let’s get an amen and say it louder for the people in the back!

However, let me ask – why don’t we live like this or treat others with this in mind?

How many times do we question another person’s salvation? How many times do we fret if we didn’t do certain things? How many times do we question if someone is a good Christian or not?

If Jesus is the basis for our acceptance before God, then why are we raking people over the coals if their lives do not match ours? I did not know you were the next incarnation of God. The most un-Christian thing we can do is treat ourselves and others as if Jesus wasn’t truly the only way to be accepted by God. We are not the defense attorney or judge or jury.

We are the accused. We are the ones facing a sentencing that will obliterate us if we even try to accept our fate. We need a judge, a defense, and a jury of divine grace, love, and justice. It is only found in Jesus will we find true justice, love, and freedom. In our just release, we need to treat others as God has done to us. We show them the grace extended to us.

The answer is really simple. It is just Jesus. Only Jesus. Jesus isn’t a jumbled jigsaw puzzle. He is the approachable incarnation of God.

Let’s no longer live under old conditions. Let’s not rebuild what the blood of Jesus ripped in two. Let’s no longer put people on the witness stand to defend their faith swearing on our standards to tell the truth.

Let’s rest in the defense of Jesus. Let’s celebrate in the verdict of the Father because of Jesus.

Am I accepted before God?
Yes, because of Jesus.
But what about…

Quiet your worried heart. It is Jesus.

Only Jesus.

Lean Not

 “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” – St. Augustine

Can you finish the verse?

“Trust in the Lord…”

Did Proverbs 3:5-6 just roll off your tongue? We are surrounded by these verses. They come on plaques, pillows, greeting cards, well wishes, and wall art. When I worked at a Christian bookstore, this was one of the references people wanted engraved on gifts or Bibles.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Recently one part stuck out to me – “… do not depend on your own understanding.” Most of us have memorized it as, “… lean not on your own understanding.” What does this phrase mean? How do we live out this phrase? Have we not taken this phrase far enough?

The meaning taught

Do not depend on your own understanding…

It is such an important phrase and concept in our relationship with God. We have to deny our own ways and follow God; trusting him with each step. Doing so, the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 is that God will show us which path to take.

What comes to mind when we think about “not depending on our own understanding”? Most of us immediately will think of not doing what we want, but instead following the will of God. Yes, that is extremely biblical. This is what I thought too. But, do you realize that concept is not in this passage?

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to not depending on our understanding. It is not a passage about what we should do or not do in reference to specific actions. Instead, it is referring to how we think through things. It is through our thoughts that our actions manifest. Yes, there is an implicit nod to our actions. But, this passage is telling us to not rely on our thinking and understanding when it comes to trusting God.

taking it further than we thought

However, have we taken the Proverbs 3:5-6 command far enough? We will say a hearty “Amen!” when we tell others to not let their minds be swayed by the world into sin. We will congratulate ourselves when we do not give into tempting thoughts as we trust God that his way is better.

But, is that far enough?

How are we at not leaning on our own “theological understanding?”

We would all agree that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). No one would ever claim to fully understand God in all his ways. That is why we need to trust God.

But, are there times where our learned theology keeps us from fully trusting God?

We know one thing about God through Scripture, but aren’t there times in our life where something creates a contradiction with reality and God’s Word? Will our understanding of God’s Word and our learned theology keep us sane? Or will we fizzle out, because it does not fit in to our neat boxes?

Mission impossible

There is a famous story in the Bible where God asks a man to do something that is clearly against Scripture…

Genesis 22:1-18

Abraham is known as someone who lived in the presence of God (Genesis 24:40). He followed God out of his family, out of his city, and into the wilderness to a Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-3). God promised Abraham a son; even though he and his wife could not have children (Genesis 18:10-14). The promise child is born and named Isaac. But, God isn’t done with Abraham and Isaac.

God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-2).

So many times we look at this passage as a “foreshadowing of God providing Christ as our sacrifice.”

Stop!
Think for a moment…

God literally told Abraham to murder Isaac on an altar as a human sacrifice. Does this go against God’s command in Genesis 9:5-6 stating that anyone who murders another human being is to be put to death? Think about the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-10). Before the Mosaic law was written, God despised murder and the taking of another human’s life.

Yet, what does God ask Abraham to do?

Do you think Abraham felt shaken a bit? Do you think he might have thought about how God hates murder, and now he is asked to murder his own son? (We rarely stop and think about that, since we are so used to knowing the end of the story and our theological trainings.)

This was Abraham’s mission impossible. Obey God’s calling and disobey another command or disobey God’s calling and obey God’s other command.

By faith

Hebrews 11:17 tells us Abraham’s decision.

Despite the contradiction, Abraham obeys. He has faith that God will work everything out. He even tells Isaac that God will provide a sacrifice (Genesis 22:8). Abraham believes God will not contradict his word or his promises even when a catch-22 is all that Abraham sees as he ascends Mount Moriah.

Do we have that kind of faith?

Many times we want our spiritual lives to fit into our neatly labeled boxes. We want the black and white when it comes to God. Confusion leads us to too much instability in our spiritual health. So, we rely on “learned theology” to navigate uncertain waters.

I remember a part of my life where I stubbornly held onto my seminary degree and thought, “This is not how God works!” I was attending a church that announced its annual Prophetic Presbytery. I did not know what that was. From what they described, it sounded like an ordination service. But, I was wrong. It was a prophecy service. Everything in me said that this was wrong. Speaking in tongues and words of prophecy have ceased! Yet, reality presented me with a conflict. Could God work even when my learned theology said something different?

It takes faith to realize that his ways are not our ways. It takes faith to trust God and lean not on our own understanding – even our own understanding of God.

How many relationships have we cut off, because their “way of faith in God” was different than ours? How many people have we given the “Hellfire and brimstone speech”, because we believed they were going against God’s Word when they could use the same Bible to show us differently?

We have hurt people, the ones made in God’s image, over not being like us. We would rather keep our black and white, neat boxes labeled than hear a differing position or expand our view of God and his ways. We become like the Pharisees. We know God. We know Jesus. Yet, when the Kingdom of God seems to expand in ways uncomfortable to us, we shut the door and bar people from entering since it goes against our “learned theology” (Matthew 23:13).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

To trust in the Lord means we need to give up all of our depending on our own understanding. Life will never be black and white. It is when we allow the beauty of God to color our world will we see the mosaic Messiah bringing compassion and light to the world.

By faith, we lean not on our own understanding.
By faith, we realize we do not fully and completely understand the ways of God.
By faith, we accept the spectrum of God’s working.
By faith, we can hold any contradiction or paradox knowing God is higher than our own understanding.

By faith, we march up the mountain God is leading us on to see a beautiful picture of redemption working in our lives.

Sacrificing Love

“About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing.” – Joan of Arc

Have you ever been burned by someone?

What does that feel like?
Betrayal? Crushing pain? Confusion and lost in a fog?

We call it a “burn” since it sears into our soul like a brand oppressing our whole humanity. We hurt in the aftermath. We flinch when that wound is touched. Our whole world is set ablaze, and we hope for the seeds of new life to grow among the charred trees and barren land.

Isn’t that how our spiritual life can feel after being burned by a church? We want to see growth like we once did, but all we see is the crumbling charcoal and abandoned ash blowing in the wind.

It isn’t surprising how much our spiritual life affects our physical life. They are interconnected. What happens in the hallowed halls of worship makes communion with our vocation, family, and friends.

The church can affect a soul. Either it is a balm of healing and growth, or it is third-degree burn blistering the skin healing into a mangled scar.

How can a place built on the sacrificial love of Jesus now be a place of pain, broken relationships, and so much hurt?

Let me take you to church…

Bound in blindness

A man came to Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus ask the man, “What is written in the law?” The myriad of moments in the synagogue flash before the man’s eyes. “The law says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Second is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus congratulates the man on his sound answer. Question and answer time over. Yet, the man asks one more question.

“Who is my neighbor?”

This starts the parable Jesus tells in Luke 10:25-37. We all know this story so well that we could tell it in our sleep; dreaming of the felt-board characters that illustrate the parable. However, how well do we know this story? Think about Christmas. Many children are told the story of Santa Claus over and over again till many of letters to Santa are sent out and visits to mall Santas are traditionally accomplished. A simple fairy tale can change a child’s whole world. Yet, does Christ’s parable change us in the same way?

A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two religious leaders show up. They pass by not wanting to get involved. Eyes go up, eyes go down, eyes go to the other side of the road. They couldn’t be bothered with anything else than where they were going and their lists of things to do.

How many of us have presented a need to the church or to other believers only to be passed by? How many of us have given hours to the church hoping for relief of the need we carry only to be passed by? It is like we are Blind Bartimaeus calling out for Jesus to heal us, but we are told to shut up
(Mark 10:46-52). Our needs silenced for the need to let the procession of worship walk on the other side

We do a better job training our eyes to avoid people’s needs than not looking at Victoria Secret when we go to the mall. We are bound in blindness to others crying out to us for help.

How did Jesus respond when his name was called? Did he turn Blind Bartimaeus away? Was his schedule to full for the children? Was he too grossed out to be anointed by a sinful woman? Are we too focused on avoiding Victoria Secret that we have become blind to the needs around us?

Betraying burdens

Holding back tears, your friend leads you to a quiet corner after the church service. Something is weighing on their mind. Fidgeting fingers, flinching facial expressions, and uneasy eyes dart around the room. After many breaths, your friend reveals a burden they carry every hour of the day. They tell about their struggles and pain. They come to you to lean on you.

A woman approached Jesus in the same manner (Luke 7:36-50). Weighed down, she could only muster enough strength to worship and plead at the feet of Jesus. Her eyes couldn’t even be lifted to his. And what does the religious leader say about this woman, “Doesn’t Jesus know who she is? He wouldn’t let her even touch him if he knew how much of a sinner she is!”

Two men go into the synagogue to pray (Luke 18:9-14). One man stands with his shameful head hung. He can’t even look up to his Creator. He begs for mercy as the weight of his sin causes him to punish himself by beating his chest. The other man, a religious leader, looks over at this “spectacle,” and thanks God that he is not like that man over there.

How do we react to those who reveal a burden to us? Have we told the church, saying things like, “Do you know about what they struggle with? I wouldn’t want them serving here,” or “That was a great sermon. I am so glad they were here. This matches up with their struggle,” or “We need to pray for them. This is what they struggle with. Let’s pray for them.” What is really being said is, “I am so glad I am not like that person. If the church knew who they really were, then that person wouldn’t be serving or being helped.”

The burdens offered to us to bear are betrayed and paraded like prisoners of war taken captive. People tell us our sins, and we sharpen our knives. We paint ourselves disguised with Galatians 6:1-2, but we betray our brothers and sisters with a kiss condemning them since they are truly not like us.

Yet, in both stories, what happened to the man and the woman? Both left forgiven and healed. They left with no guilt or shame. The Savior shouldered their burdens all the way to the cross for their forgiveness and restoration.

What are we doing with the burdens brought before us?

Beaten to bended knee

One thing that separates Christians from all other religions is the view of what needs to be done to get to heaven. In Jesus Christ, it is to believe and call on his name. In other religions, lists of duties plague followers.

Jesus came to fulfill the law, establish a covenant of grace, and free us. We sing and praise God for this. But, is this the reality we lead others into?

In Matthew 23:1-36, Jesus calls out the religious leaders. In New Testament times, the Pharisees had set up rules, regulations, and standards to be followed. When they said jump. The people jumped. They were treated like Pavlov’s dogs- conditioned to see their relationship with God as an obstacle course to be scored by their religious judges. Jesus condemned this. Jesus says in Matthew 23:4 the Religious Leaders tie people down with heavy loads like pack mules when they couldn’t lift a finger to do the same.

When someone comes to Christ or makes a spiritual decision, how do we treat them? Does accountability turn into score card of how well they meet our standards? Do we turn them into a dog worshipping at the shrine of our self-made rules loosely based on Scripture?

The outfit must be right, the Bible translation used must be correct, the image polished, and on and on the demands are burdened onto a person. In reality, our relationship with God is between us and God where our Father sees our true heart (Matthew 6:1-18). We need to encourage that relationship in the secret place even if it looks different than ours.

Healing the burns

We might reach the end of this post thinking this is just over-dramatized. Yet, how many people have left the church telling of their pain relating to a least one of these things above? How many of us, still apart of a church, have been burnt in at least one of these ways? Or how many times have we changed churches, because of how a church treated us?

We need to get back to Colossians 1:18 – Christ is the head of the church.

This means Jesus is the face of the church. When people think of the church, they should think of Christ. Joan of Arc was right when she said that Jesus and the church are the same thing. How Jesus acted, the church should act. How Jesus responded, the church should do the same. Yet, is that what happens? I agree, the church is full of sinners. However, we are redeemed sinners.

So what has happened?

We have sacrificed Christ’s love on the altar of our man-made, holy image. We exchange God’s love extending to others for graven images to worship – our own image. The church has become the altar to our image, and we will sacrifice all of Christ’s love if it means keeping our reputation, our standing with others, and how good we are perceived as Christians.

We are called to be a holy people by a holy God. Holy means to be set apart. How is God set apart? He is set apart by his unique, unconditional love for us. That is what he calls us to as we become holy.

Isn’t it time we sacrifice our image on the altar of Christ’s love?

The Wandering Worshipper

“Not all who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

One summer, while in college, I visited Mackinac Island (in Michigan) with some friends. Being from Michigan, I have always enjoyed going to the island. My friends and I wanted to visit Arch Rock. It is a beautiful arched rock over looking one of the Great Lakes. Since I was from Michigan (and had visited the island multiple times), my friends assumed I could get there with ease. So we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Eventually we made it. However, we found out we wandered to Arch Rock via the long way! My friends were a bit upset with me when they found out there was a more direct route than the one we took.

Isn’t that how we view the Christian life? We know where we are supposed to go. We know what God wants for our life. We know the passages and the songs, yet don’t we find ourselves frustrated wandering?

How many times have we looked at other Christians who have “wandered from the path,” and judged them as being away from God?

Is wandering bad? Can God actually want us to wander?

We often view wandering as a season of trial or a cursed season. But, what if we changed our life from a wandering whiner to a wandering worshipper?

The curse of wandering

“Did you hear about him? He is wandering away from God.” “I can’t believe it. She was such a good Christian. Now look at her. She is wandering from the right path.”

Ever heard these things? Ever had them said about you? Ever said them about others?

So often when we thinking of wandering as a curse. It is a time when we have “wandered away.” The curse comes from the thought that, in wandering, we are away from the presence of God.

We look at passages like Genesis 4:16 (seeing Cain walking away from God’s presence), and we tremble in fear. We do not want to be wandering like Cain. We do not want to be wandering like the cursed Israelites for not following through on taking the Promised Land (Numbers 14).

Yet, before the Mosaic law, there was someone who was sent into wandering, not as a curse, but as a journey of promise. Times of wandering do not have to be a curse away from the presence of God (we already know we cannot be away from God’s presence Psalm 139:1-12).

Let’s look at the life of the Wandering Worshipper.

The Call to wander

Genesis 12:1-3 starts this man’s journey. God calls Abraham to leave his home, his family, his land, his national identity (everything that is tied to a place), and leave for a land God will reveal to Abraham. The destination is never disclosed. A map does not magically appear in Abraham’s satchel. Instead, he is called to wander until he comes to the place God’s called to him to be.

To wander is a call unlike any other. In our modern day, we want to know the final destinations, the directions, and a comforting, monotone GPS voice to guide us there. Unfortunately, we view our Christian life as this as well. We rely so much on Psalm 37 to be a promise of golden stepping stones to line our way, that we forget that the wandering King David wrote this psalm.

When we are called to wander, we are called to trust the Lord with every step, every settling, every identity, and every new chapter. The Christian life is not the American dream. It is not filled with the perfect wedding, white picket fence, a growing career, stable finances, and a family that greets you at the door. In reality, it is a call to wander. It is call to trust God no matter what comes and where the path takes us. After all, he is the one who specially created our own race for our testimony and his glory (Psalm 139:13-16; Hebrews 12:1).

The wandering God brings into our life is a calling. Is he surprised when that family member or friend “wanders from the path”? No. He brought that wandering for their testimony and his glory.

build, worship, depart, repeat

One of the most fascinating things about studying the Bible is seeing things that are repeated. In the life of Abraham, we see this pattern of building an altar over and over again (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9).

He built so many altars that he could do it in his sleep. Abraham built altars, worshipped God, went to his next place, and repeated. He is the original “rinse and repeat.” He kept his eye on God’s promise and stayed in the presence of God during his time of wandering.

We can stay in God’s presence while wandering? Yes! We can tell if someone has “wandered away” from God or has been called to wander. How? John 3:20-21 tells us that those who desire to be in the light are in God’s presence. They haven’t run away from it like Jonah did (Jonah 1). There is a difference between running away and wandering. Check yourself. Are you still drawn to God’s Word? Still drawn to church? Still drawn to worship? Then you are not like Cain or the people of Israel. You are in a call to wander.

pitfalls in wandering

Unfortunately, we tend to romanticize the people in Scripture. We look at people like Abraham, and we tend to think he was guided by God and floated in God’s presence like Jerry (the mouse) being led along by the smell of cheese (Tom and Jerry Clip). Instead, Abraham had to put on his Nikes on each foot and just do the journey ahead of him. Even when he fell into pits.

In Genesis 12:10-20, we find Abraham and Sarah needing to find a sustainable life in Egypt due to a famine. However, Abraham saw this new chapter filled with potential danger. So, he concocted a plan. He told Sarah to lie about being his wife so he wouldn’t be killed. He told Sarah to tell people Abraham was her brother. He lied, she lied, and a plague descended chaos upon Pharaoh and his family.

We would call out Abraham for sinning. We might shame him so much that he would hang his head in shame as he thought about his actions bringing such chaos on Pharaoh’s family. When we see Abraham in church worshipping, we hope he is repenting for his sin or we judge in disgust over how he could worship God after what he brought on that poor royal family.

Yet, what does Abraham do after leaving Egypt? He worships the Lord again (Genesis 13:1-4)! He desired to be close to the Lord and worship him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t recognize his sin. But, God’s presence was more important than beating himself up for lying.

How many times do we shame people for their sin and mistakes? How many times do we see the “Wanderer,” and put them down rather than allow the intimacy of worship take place in their heart? Yes, there are pitfalls in wandering. But, that doesn’t mean the wanderer has stepped away from God. Again, look for what they desire.

Pitfalls can lead to greater intimacy with God. Pitfalls are not moments for shame, but moments for worship.

Leaving the “CHRISTIAN DREAM”

A perfectly dressed family, sitting in church worshipping together, having time around the Word, all following the path we think God wants… Isn’t that the Christian dream? It is a dream akin to the American dream.

We think life should go one way. We think our family members or friends should be like this or be like that. But when that does not happen, we criticize them for not fulfilling “God’s will.” In reality they have not fulfilled our American Christian dream. We have allowed patriotism to pollute our piety rather than allowing piety to bend our knees to God’s path before us.

Did Abraham’s life fulfill the Christian dream? Living in tents and traveling from place to place sounds like what we all want, right? The reason Abraham did not see his wandering as a waste is because he saw God’s promise from afar (Hebrews 11:8-10). God’s promise was worth more than what others thought of his wandering.

How do we see people who are wandering? Sure, they may be off the path. Usually, that is the path you think is best for them. Life happens. Happily Ever Afters” don’t work out. That doesn’t mean someone is outside God’s presence. They may be on God’s path, but that path is away from your idolatry of the Christian dream.

Let’s take a lesson from Abraham. Let’s become a wandering worshipper. Let’s embrace the chapters of wandering as times to build altars, worship, depart, and repeat. Wandering isn’t a curse. The Covenant of Grace is not based on our works bringing blessings or curses. Jesus has atoned for our sins, reconciled us to God, and brought us into a journey led by the Holy Spirit.

Wandering does not mean we are lost. It means we are trusting God for the next place we are to settle as we step into his promises.

Scared Of The New?

“God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”
– C.S. Lewis

Have you ever changed your belief about something?

There was something you used to believe in. Think of that moment where someone presented you with a new way of thinking or a new way of living. They spoke with such passion and such authority that you rethought your belief.

I am reminded of a scene from Friends. Ross and Pheobe are discussing evolution. Rose becomes more and more irate as Pheobe challenges his belief in evolution.

Watch the scene here

Pheobe is hilarious as she slowly makes Ross cave. But, have we had moments like this? Or are we currently experiencing moments like this?

The Jewish people and the Religious leaders experienced something new that began to change their whole belief system.

A Demon exposed

Mark 1:21-28 is a fascinating story. I used to read this thinking it was an odd story about Jesus cleansing a man of a demon. However, look closer.

Mark 1:21-22 tells us that Jesus began to teach in a synagogue. Astonished, the people marveled at his teachings. Why? He was teaching with such authority that it rivaled the teachings of the religious leaders.

Then, the story takes a turn. As if out of nowhere, a man with a demon cries out and disrupts Jesus (Mark 1:23). Jesus commands the demon to come out of the man. In a dramatic exit, the man is freed. This causes the people to spread the news saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! (Mark 1:27)”

What caused the demon to lash out? It was when Jesus began teaching something new with great authority that rivaled the religious leaders. The demon didn’t want this new teaching exposing the old teaching that oppressed many of the people.

This new teaching with authority changed many people. In fact, Luke 5:1, tells us that the people came to him to hear him teach God’s Word. But weren’t the religious leaders teaching God’s Word? They were teaching the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Isn’t that God’s Word too? Yes, it is! But, it is in the way each party was handling God’s Word.

WHAT ISN’T LIKE THE OTHER?

Remember in elementary school when you had to pick out the item that didn’t match the rest of the group? Jesus talks about a match that isn’t the same and has disastrous results.

Jesus gives a parable in Luke 5:36-39. He talks about garments, patches, wine, and wineskins. He starts off by giving the illustration of a torn, old garment in need of repair. However, no one would take a patch off of a new garment to fix the old. First, that will destroy the new garment. Second, the patch would not match the old garment. Therefore, both the new and old garment are ruined.

The second illustration is of wine. Yes, Jesus talks about wine. No, it wasn’t just “grape juice.” He says that no one will put a newly made wine into an old wineskin. Why? Because the new wine is fermenting and will expand. This will cause the old wineskin to burst. Thus, the wine and the wineskin are ruined. New wine must be contained in a new wineskin. Then Jesus makes this remark, “And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.'”

Jesus introduces that there is something new and something old. The new doesn’t match the old, can’t fix the old, bursts through the old, needs a new place to reside, and is better than the old. What could he be referring to?

The new is the New Covenant Jesus establishes. It results in a new way of living, a new way of relating to the Father, and in need of a new place to reside – our heart. The old is the Old Covenant. It did it’s job (it wasn’t wrong or sinful). However, it is old (like the garment). It will not be able to contain this newness Jesus brings. It doesn’t match the new, and it is not better than the new.

When it comes to what Jesus establishes in the New Testament, it does not match the old. This is completely new!

The Old and new clashing

Was everyone excited about this new teaching? No. The religious leaders were not happy with Jesus at all. Mark 11:18 tells us the religious leaders wanted to find a way to kill Jesus, because of what Jesus taught and how the crowd responded.

The religious leaders were losing their power over the people. They did not want to submit to this new teaching. Submitting would mean giving up their old way (and their power over people) to allow Jesus’ new teaching to change people and give life. They relied on rules and rituals to relate to God. Jesus brought love and a relationship as the way to relate to God. The religious leaders brought sacrifices and traditions to appease God. Jesus brought himself and showed people that faith is what pleases God.

The old and the new do not mix. The clash was so strong, the religious leaders looked for ways to kill Jesus. If this new teaching didn’t have divine authority behind it, then there wouldn’t be such a drastic measure taken against Jesus. However, since the religious leaders were losing their power over the people, Jesus and his teaching had to go.

Suspicious of the new

How many of us have a similar mindset to something new? How many of us have a hidden religious leader in us?

We hear things that are new, and we immediately react and shut that person down.

But, what is the proper response? Acts 17:1 says the Berean church studied the Scriptures to see what was being said is true or not. We need to do the same. Instead, of shutting people down. We need to search the Scriptures.

But, how are we to do that? II Timothy 2:15 teaches us to teach the word correctly (rightly dividing the word of truth – as in KJV). What does this mean? So many of us fight over passages and meanings. I believe a lot of these fights come from putting the cart before the horse.

Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us God spoke to us in the old times through the prophets, but now he speaks to us through Jesus, his son. This verse should give us a clue. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus. Therefore, we need to interpret everything through Jesus. A lot of us interpret Jesus by Paul or Peter. But, we really need to interpret Paul by Jesus. I am not saying these men were not inspired by God, but we need to hold up our interpretation of Paul, John, Peter, etc. by the teachings of Jesus.

This is how we do not become suspicious of the new and slip back into an old covenant mindset. If we truly believe Jesus is the Son of God and his teaching has divine authority, then we need to treat the whole of Scripture as running through the filter of Jesus’ new teachings.

Embracing the new

It is so easy to sit in what we have been taught for so long. We listen without question. We do what we are told. However, that one person says something new, and we immediately try to shut them down.

Why?

We are so scared of the new that we become modern religious leaders.

Have we checked how things hold up against the teachings of Jesus (our divine measuring rod)?

Jesus told us that his new will not match the old, that it is better than the old, and that it takes a whole new vessel to contain it. Therefore, let’s embrace his new and see where it leads. According to Jesus, it leads to life abundantly (John 10:10).

Are you ready to receive the new wine Jesus gives? You need to be like a new wineskin ready to expand. An old one is stiff and will burst. His new leads to life…. are you ready for that?

Grace Through Disgrace

“Next to faith this is the highest art – to be content with the calling in which God has placed you.” – Martin Luther

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Ever cried in silence as something that was different about you brought on stereotypes, assumptions, and judgement from others?

Has those moments resulted in listening to lyrics like, “I walk a lonely road. The only one that I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes, but it’s home to me, and I walk alone”? (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day)

Being different or perceived as “the other” can be a lonely road to walk; especially in Christian circles. We feel like we do not belong. We feel avoided for one reason or another. We are questioned and looked on with either pity, sorrow, or suspicion.

When you do not fit the typical “Christian mold,” it can be a lonely road. However, there is a story in Scripture that I believer can teach us that grace can be found in the disgrace we feel as we walk a different path than what is considered the ” Christian norm”.

Shattering the stained-glass story

How do we read the story of Mary? Not Mary (the sister of Martha) or Mary Magdalene . How do we read the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus? Is it filled with poised paintings of purity and piety? Is it illustrated with lustrous, light-filled stained glass windows of a virgin holding a child? Is it a picture of a perfect mother posed in prayer over a glowing newborn?

When we think of the story of Mary, we tend to read it like it is a stained-glass artwork or a painting. We romanticize it. We, actually, tend to do that with a lot of Scripture. We think that she must have been this faithful, godly woman full of faith in order to be chosen to birth the Savior. We picture her as this serene, surrendered soul for the will of God.

Please tear up that image. Some of it may be true, but let’s relook at the story. Let’s consider what is actually taking place in a real time period, a real culture, inside the body, soul, and mind of a real person.

mary with the scarlet letter

Go in your mind back to Israel. Before the birth of Jesus. Before the cross. Before Jesus fulfilled the law. See a young woman around 14-16 years old.

Mary’s life was lived under the Mosaic law as taught in the synagogue. The Ten Commandments were known and chiseled on every heart; including commandment seven – do not commit adultery. Mary knew the law. She knew the punishments for transgressing the ancestral law of her people. So, she faithfully did what the Lord required of her. She stayed a virgin until marriage. She performed the correct cleansing rituals for her menstrual cycle. She brought the correct sacrifices. She participated in each festival to remember the works of the Lord.

Then, in what could have a felt like a blur, a strange visitor approached Mary. An angel of God came to Mary. He told her she would give birth to the Messiah! The one everyone was looking forward to. The one who would reestablish the throne of David. She, Mary, would have a son named Jesus, and he would save his people from their sins (Luke 1:26-32; Matthew 1:21).

To many of us today, this is such an exciting story to listen to and watch played out each Christmas season. But, Mary did not live in a vacuum. She was engaged to be married, but was still a virgin like the law required of her. Her reaction was not, at first, submission to this message. Instead, she questioned how this will all happen since she hadn’t had sex yet (Luke 1:34). The angel calmed her by assuring her that God will overshadow her, because nothing is impossible for him (Luke 1:35-37). Mary, then, submits to God as his servant (Luke 1:38).

She submitted as one under the Mosaic law. She knew what people would say. Eventually, she wouldn’t be able to hide the growing child in her womb. Not everyone would listen to her story. She would get the side-eye. Maybe someone told her to give a sacrifice for her “sin”. Joseph, her fiancé, thought about breaking things off with her (Matthew 1:19).

How many people approached Joseph to tell him of their “concern” about Mary? How many considered her “unclean” and avoided her? How did her family treat her? Joseph wanted to wanted to break their engagement, because he did not want to deal with the disgrace (yet, God changed his mind).

Remember, Mary is an unwed, pregnant virgin under the Mosaic law. When the news got out, she was branded with the scarlet letter. God’s will for her life involved disgrace.

But, how did Mary respond?

A Scarlet Song in disgrace

Again, think about Mary’s situation. Think about what she submitted to God for. She did so under the Jewish law of Moses, the culture of the synagogues, and the traditions of the religious leaders.

Yet, Mary praises God in some of the most beautiful words in Scripture:

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1:46-48)

Mary believed what God’s messenger said to her. She was carrying the Messiah. No amount of disgrace could keep her from praising God. Mary didn’t hide from life till she gave birth. She stayed with her cousin for three months, and then returned home (Luke 1:56).

I wonder… did Mary keep singing her song when she felt the side-eye, or when Joseph wanted to break their engagement, or when she was questioned or judged, or when she felt the cultural weight of disgrace?

Delighting through disgrace

Now, what about us?

Is there something in your life that has caused disgrace to fall on you? Have you felt the side-eye of suspicion and judgement cling to you like a scarlet letter? Have you had friends break off from you, because of something “culturally taboo” in your life?

Disgrace comes when we do not fit the “Christian mold” we are told to conform to. And when we don’t, the “misshaped cookie” is seen as not as good as the other perfectly conformed cookies.

However, Psalm 139:13-16 gives me great comfort. God formed us just the way he wanted to. He plans our life moment by moment. He knows what paths we will take. He knows what we will face. That one thing we feel disgrace from, do you think it surprises the Creator of the universe? No. He works all things for our good; even when we can’t see the good, because nothing separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:28; Romans 8:31-39).

So, we can rest on the promises of God, just like Mary did. The whole song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55 is full of references to the Old Testament. It reads like a psalm of David. She remembers the works of God, seeing herself among those great works, and delights through the disgrace. We can too!

wHAT THE ROAD SAID…

Each of us have our own path. God has designed and created us each unique. No one is a clone of another. Christians are not meant to be clones of each other. We are a body of many different, unique parts working together as a whole (I Corinthians 12:12-27). Therefore, no one is going to be just like you. Each of us have to run the race set before us while keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This race may involve things we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. Yet, God still has placed the path before us. We may try to pray things away, or push away the cup God gives us to drink, but what is that saying to God? Did Mary know what she would go through? Yes. Did she try to pray away the child in her womb? No. She submitted to God. She sang through the disgrace, because she believed the promises of God each step of the way.

One of my favorite books I read to my students is What the Road Said by Cleo Wade. The story follows the narrator coming upon an unexpected path. As new steps are taken, the narrator questions the road at each bend, each step, and each new part of the path. The quote repeated in this book is:

I said to the road, “Where do you lead?”
The Road said, “Be a leader and find out.”

(Watch a read aloud of the full book here)

The road before us is God-given. He isn’t surprised at each turn. He doesn’t give us things in our lives thinking we live in a vacuum. He understands the cultural taboos, the stereotypes, the assumptions, and every disgrace we may face. Yet, the call is the same, “Be a leader and find out.” We keep going till we rest in the arms of Jesus as he sweetly calms us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Disgrace is difficult to face. Mary understood that all too well. But, she submitted, she sang, and she lived. Why?

Because from the disgrace Mary faced came the
incarnated grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Grace will come from the disgrace we face. We just need to submit to God’s path, sing his praises with our head held high, and see the grace he will shine through us.


Talk To The Hand

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Back in the 90’s, I remember a phrase we used all the time on the playground. If you wanted to stop someone from talking, we would stick out our hand to stop them and say, “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.”

Basically, it showed the other person you were not interested in even speaking to them. Talk to the hand, because you were done even looking at them. When I received “the hand”, it felt harsh. It felt like the silent treatment. It felt like an immediate cut off.

Talking to the hand is a very petty action. We would see it as childish (with maybe a hint of nostalgia if you remember those days).

Yet, did you know we do the same thing? As Christians, we have at least three ways we tell others to “talk to the hand.” What may sound Biblical and “Christ-like” are phrases Jesus would never use. We may think we are being loving to another person, but, truthfully, we are just giving them the hand.

First, about labels…

First, I want to address what most people will see as a loop-hole. As Christians, we tend to label the world as “believers” and “non-believers.” We use these labels to justify our actions or degrees of love we show.

In our dealings with other Christians, Jesus tells us that the world will know we are his disciples when (not if) we love one another (John 13:35). If we want to bear the mark that we are Christ’s disciples, then it is not through what we politically do or abstain from or what personal forms of conduct we have. Those maybe a result of our relationship with Jesus, but they are not the mark for the world to see we are his disciples. It is through our love for each other that we prove to the world we are his. In fact, Jesus commands us to love each other (John 15:17).

In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48 we need to be perfect in our love to others (even our enemies). An enemy is anyone who is opposed to you. An unbeliever is someone who could fit that definition. But how does God treat enemies? He sends rain to both the godly and the ungodly. He is gracious and loving. Jesus reminds us that there is no real reward in loving our friends, but found in loving our enemies.

So, we understand that love is extended to both believers and unbelievers. Now, let’s look at the ways we tend to tell people to “talk to the hand, because our face ain’t listening.”

tHE playact prayer

I love the movie The War Room. I love hearing the stories throughout church history about the power of prayer. We take church services and spend the whole time praying for our country, for revival, and for needs in our churches. Prayer is a very powerful tool. James 5:16 tells us the earnest prayer of a righteous man can accomplish great things. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7-11 we need to knock, seek, and ask. In persistent prayer, there is found God’s good gifts. Can I get an amen?

However, there is an attitude that Jesus does not demonstrate. In fact, it is condemned in the New Testament. It is when someone (believer or unbeliever) approaches us with a need and we say something like, “I am sorry you are going through this. I will be praying for you,” or “God will provide. Trust him. I will keep you in my prayers” and we do not do anything.

We never find Jesus turning away someone who came to him in faith to receive. Even when someone said to him, “if you are willing to heal me,” Jesus answered, “I am willing. Be healed. (Matthew 8:1-3).” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, even if we want a person hurt, we need to give our cloak and we need to walk the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42).

James even addresses this. James 2 is confronting this attitude. We should not have favorites, but love everyone. If we want to show the validity and sincerity of our faith, James tells us to never turn someone away and bless them without being able to at least help them in some way. He says what good is it to bless someone with, “be warmed and filled,” and not actually help them (James 2:14-16)? In fact, to only tell someone you are praying for them without actually acting to help them, James says, your faith is dead and useless (James 2:17).

How many times have we had someone ask for help financially or with finding a job or keeping their home or are in a crisis, and we just tell them to “trust God, because he will provide and we will pray for them”? That is putting on a playact of faith. It is not actually showing our faith. It is a similar attitude the pharisees had. They would show off their grand money and spiritual height, but did they actually help people? Or did they only help to promote themselves (Matthew 6:1-4)?

Telling someone we will pray for them without actually helping them is telling them,” Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It shows we cannot be bothered with their needs. Sure, we may not have the funds to help, but can we help them acquire what they need?

When our faith is without works, it is dead and useless. Prayer without action is a playact of faith. It is no better than the religious leaders who put Jesus on the cross.

The spurious separation

As a teacher, I have a love for the movie Mean Girls. It depicts life in a high school, and the drama that takes place. Through my years of teaching, I have seen many of those lines and scenes play out among the students I interacted with. One of the most common lines I hear is – “You can’t sit with us!” One group finds another group (or person) detestable and will make sure no one makes the mistake of them being associated.

As Christians, we can do the same to others. A need comes to our attention either through a conversation, text message, social media post, etc. What do we do? Sometimes we consider the person or circumstance, and we think, “I do not want to appear as supporting this persons sin or have other Christians think I approve of them in anyway. Remember, God says I need to abstain from every form of evil.” We pat ourselves on the back for this thinking as we back it up with I Thessalonians 5:22.

Again, we must ask, was this the attitude of Jesus? In Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-32, Jesus is called out for eating with sinners. The religious leaders hated that Jesus associated with and allowed “sinners” close to him. Even the disciples were shocked when Jesus associated with a Samaritan woman, because that was taboo (John 4:27). Jesus associated with sinners, because he knew that his kindness could lead to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Did you know Peter was called out by Paul for not wanting to associate with certain Christians, because other Christians might look down on him (Galatians 2:11-21)? In the early church, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were figuring out how to interact with each other. Some of their practices were different from each other, but they all agreed that faith saves. Paul had to remind Peter that it is Jesus who saves; not the works of the law or anything we do. Therefore, there should be unity between Christians.

This attitude does infect our churches today. We see a Christian, who may be in sin, ask for help, and what do we do? We may tell them no, because we do not want to be seen as supporting them. We see an unbeliever in need who asks for our help, and what do we do? We assess how our helping them will affect our image and reputation among other Christians.

This is unbiblical thinking. Even if a Christian is under Matthew 18:15-17, and is removed from a church or is now seen as a “pagan or a corrupt tax collector,” what are we to do? Jesus still loved and met the needs of unbelievers. We never stop loving or disassociating from someone “out of love.” Jesus never did.

To tell someone or treat someone with separation, because you do not want to “support their sin” or have a bad reputation among believers in your church is a spurious separation. It is telling someone, “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It is just like the pharisees using Scripture to justify not honoring their parents or putting their traditions above God’s word (Mark 7:1-13).

Does this kind of “love” really show the world we are Christ’s disciples?

Afflicting holy hurt

It is sad when someone walks away from Jesus. It hurts us inside when someone makes a choice that leads down a bad path. Our heartbreaks for that person. In these situations, we may hear or even say ourselves, “I hope God breaks them in order to bring them back to repentance,” or “I pray God uses this awful situation to break their hard heart,” or “You are going through such a hard time with (insert a difficulty and need), but maybe God is using this to break you.” I have heard this many, many times in various churches and among Christians. I even heard someone pray that if God needed to use a car wreck to break someone, that it should be done.

When has it even been Biblical to wish harm on someone in order for them to come to Jesus? In Luke 9:51-56, the disciples are angry that the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus. So, they asked Jesus to send down fire on those people. For what purpose? Jesus rebuked the disciples, and continued onto the next town.

God doesn’t even think like that! I Peter 3:9 states so! God is patient. He doesn’t want anyone destroyed, but to all come to repentance through his love and kindness (Romans 2:4).

There is only one person who was broken for the sake of our repentance – Jesus Christ. He was broken so we could live and be free. Through his broken body he established the covenant of grace. No longer our relationship with God is based on blessings and curses as seen in the Old Testament. It is based on grace. It is based on God’s love towards us. He uses his love and grace to draw us to him. He isn’t wanting our destruction in order bring about repentance. Wherever that idea came from, it sure didn’t come from Jesus.

To pray for God to hurt someone physically, financially, emotionally, or mentally in order to bring about repentance is telling that person “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It says we do not want to get involved and love. We would rather see someone suffer than love on them like Jesus loves on us. The pharisees and religious leaders treated people with that kind of disdain. They would say, “Let the consequences be the teacher.” Jesus would bring any individual close, feed them, give them a place at his table, and let the Spirit change that person.

Are we loving like Christ loves and allowing the Spirit to move through our love?

Lowering our hand

It is sad how many people leave the church because they have been met with one of these three attitudes. It is sad how the love of Christ has been twisted into an imitation of the “love” of the religious leaders Jesus opposed.

What should be done?

Do any of the attitudes above emulate the real love of Jesus?

We need to have the same hand gesture as Jesus did… Open arms ready to embrace. He is always ready to welcome, bless, be gracious to, listen, understand, cry with, heal, feed, and see a life changed.

The greatest commands that fulfill the Law and the Prophets is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). The person who perfectly fulfilled the Law and Prophets for us is Jesus. He is our example. In fact, he says to everyone, “Come to me with your heavy burdens. Let me take them. I will give you rest and a new way of life (Matthew 11:28-30).”

How does our love for others allow them to lay down their heavy burdens and find rest in the Jesus who did the same for us?

A Place At The Table

“The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.” – Dwight L. Moody

Once upon a time…

A Young Man, full of love for Jesus and love for others, fell on hard times. Bills crashed out of his mailbox like a tsunami. His bank account was on life support. Every penny was counted. Every number was crunched. To him, his life went from being happy following Jesus and fulfilling his calling to everything crumbling to ruins around him.

His friends? Many of them stopped reaching out. Many stopped associating with him. Why? This Young Man struggled with the most heinous sin – he was same-sex attracted. Like someone infected in a pandemic, he was avoided.

Alone with tears in his eyes, his prayers echoed in the silent rooms of his home. His cries of crisis crescendoed with each day. His demand that God changed him drove him to self-hatred, spiritual performance, and other ways hoping his struggle would disappear like the fog revealing the sunny meadows after a storm.

Many crossed his path. Many interacted with the Young Man. First, a Biblical Counselor came by. He saw the young man’s hurts, pain, and needs. “You are going through a lot right now. Stick close to God. He will get you through this. Keep looking to him for provision. I will be praying for you.” The Biblical Counselor, proud of his wise counsel, shut the door and left the young man on a brighter path… or so he thought.

Then a Pastor, wise, charismatic, caring and compassionate, knocked on the door. When the door opened, the Pastor was greeted by the chaotic collage of sorrowful strategizing. It was like stepping into a hoarder’s home of heartbroken hope stacked and piled up with boxes. He sat down with the Young Man. The Pastor listened intently to thoughts, needs, and desires jumbled in a mix of confusion. The Pastor reached out to embrace the Young Man. “I am so sorry you are hurting. You have a lot of needs. I will be glad to help you with some things, but I can’t support you in ways where others would think I am supporting your struggle and saying I fully agree with you. Keep trusting God. He will provide.” Then the Pastor left humming the latest Christian tune about his love for Jesus…

The Frustrating Reality

How does the story above sit with you? Take a moment.

Does this story feel familiar? It is because you know a story exactly like this that doesn’t start with, “Once upon a time.” A name appeared in your mind. A face filled each characters. Why? Because this story a is a frustrating reality for so many people.

Many face dire situations. They have heartaches, needs, and struggles we do not understand. They battle each day to continue when their emotions tell them to quit. They long for a place at the table – accepted into a community, desired by others to bring their contributions to the table, needs met, and a family they’ve longed for.

But, should we be at the same table as other “Christians” we disagree with? Can’t they sit at the “kiddie table” while the more mature Christians sit at the “adult table”? Do we want to run the risk of having difficult conversations at the table that could lead people away from what we believe is the “correct image” for a Christian?

All good questions to ask. Let’s unpack this.

Are They Even a Christian?

When faced with a Christian who does not look like us or act like us, but say they love Jesus, we immediately are suspicious of their salvation. Are they truly saved? Are they really a child of God? How can we tell if someone is a Christian or not?

I have thought a lot about this question. Coming from a fundamentalist Baptist background, we spent many secret thoughts on questioning someone’s validity as a true follower of Jesus.

First, we must ask, what is a Christian? A Christian is someone who is made right before God by resting their faith in the grace extending from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:27-28 clearly states that our relationship with God is not based on works or image. It is only based on faith.

But, what does faith look like? So many say things like, “My faith is important to me.” Usually that brings up images of going to church, praying, reading the Bible, etc. However, what if faith was illustrated many times, and yet we missed it?

Throughout the gospels, we see this phrase “seeing their faith (Mark 2:5),” or “your faith has made you well (Matthew 9:22).” Jesus sees faith. Faith in the gospels is the desire to come to Jesus for everything. Faith draws us to Jesus. Our faith in Jesus isn’t a theological principle to believe, or a prayer we pray to escape hell. Our faith is an inner desire to come to Jesus knowing he will save us, heal us, redeem us, and sanctify us.

Jesus tells us the standard by which he judges in John 3:18-21. How do we know if someone is born again? They believe in Jesus, the Messiah, and come to the light. Their desires are to be with Jesus through many means – Bible reading, Church fellowship, worship, etc. Fait isn’t found in these actions, but faith is grown through these actions.

So many times we judge Christians by a “changed desire.” However, we tend to be the ones who define what that changed desire is. “He can’t be a Christian. Look at all his tattoos.” “Is she a Christian? I saw alcohol in her home when I visited.” “Is that family saved? You should see the movies they watch.” “Have you seen what kind of church he goes to?” “Have you seen her struggles? She must not truly be a born-again Christian.” How many times have we secretly thought these statements or gossiped about those people as prayer requests and spiritual concerns?

But They Aren’t Like…

Can we finish that phrase? But they aren’t like… me. Often we create our own version of God and the Christian life. We must worship a certain way. We must attend the correct church. We must… And the list grows longer than a doctoral dissertation.

We tend to forget that the basis of our faith is coming to Jesus. Our extended invitation to others is founded on the shared love of Jesus, and our joy in being in his presence. We get so caught up in practices, standards, and choices that we forget to see that the kingdom of God isn’t based on standards. It is based on a life following the Spirit in peace, goodness, and joy (Romans 14:17). We forget there is are two chapters dedicated on how to love and interact with Christians we disagree with (Romans 14 & I Corinthians 13).

I will never forget something a wise, spiritual leader said to me while attending a fundamental Baptist church, “We read in I Corinthians 13:13, ‘Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.‘ But we live like the verse says, ‘Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and separation – and the greatest of these is separation.'”

Isn’t sad that we beat the drum of separation warring against other Christians when Jesus prays for unity and love right before he goes to the cross?

The Fear of the Table

But why do we fear other Christians, who we may disagree with, at our table?

The table in the gospels is seen as a place of teaching, a place of acceptance, worship, and being in the presence of Jesus (Mark 14:1-9; Mark 2:13-17; John 13-16; Luke 7:36-50, etc.) All are welcomed at the table with Jesus. It is a place where sinners find forgiveness. It is a place where our minds our challenged to be more like Jesus. It is the place where the new covenant was established at the Last Supper. It is the place where all come with something to the table and leave changed, because they were in the presence of Jesus. You do not see Jesus turning someone away from the table. He welcomes in order to change their heart. Zealots, prostitutes, religious leaders, tax collectors, fishermen, men, women, children, rich, and the poor were all people seen at the table with Jesus. Yet, Jesus is the peacemaker in this diverse group. We tend to sacrifice being a peacemaker for trying to keep the peace.

Why do we fear the table? Is it because we hold too tightly to a learned theology that we do not want to “lose our faith”? Is it because we do not want to be seen as “supporting those people with *cough* sin problems *cough* unlike we have? How we respond to those in our life in our invitation to our table shows how truly our heart has been transformed by the love of Jesus.

Finishing the story…

The young man sat alone in his home. He was given good advice. He knew the spiritual answers, but he longed to be brought into his community. He longed not to be left out. He had needs that a Bible verse couldn’t fix. He had worries that prayers were only a band-aid for. He longed for an invitation to the table where he could bring his worries, needs, desires, struggles, and be fed, encouraged, and be able to contribute. He didn’t need to be talked to or preached at. He needed a meal with friends.

So, he waited for the knock at the door. He prayed for such a dream to be fulfilled. Then, a noise broke his prayer. A slight, small knock on his door. He unlocked the bolt, and opened the door to…

You get to finish the story. For whoever is on the other side of the door will change the course of this young man’s life. What table is he going to be invited to? Will his needs be met? Will he find grace, standards, or deception?

What kind of table are you preparing for the people in your life?

St. Augustine said, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

We should offer prayers for others. But, love goes further. It is an invitation to fellowship found at a table.

“Spurgeon and the Psalms” Review

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” – C.S. Lewis

Do we need another book of just the Psalms?

I though the same when I first heard about this. Yet, when I dug in , I found something more.

First Impressions

My eyes immediately went to the cover. It is simple, beautiful, and engaging. The size of this book is perfect to slide into a bag or to carry with you. Immediately, I was taken by the aesthetics of this edition.

The font is perfect for reading. The spacing and margins make note taking easy. The text being the New King James Version makes it very readable.

But What About the Spurgeon Part?

What makes this edition of the Psalms “Spurgeon” are the introductions for each Psalm. The introductions open up each Psalm to you to see core ideas and themes. I enjoyed these introductions as I approach the passages, and as I create my own notations.

These introductions are great insights from a famous pastor and theologian. What I am most appreciative of this edition, is the fact that only a short paragraph of Spurgeon’s thoughts start each Psalm. This isn’t a study Bible. Spurgeon’s words focus my eyes to look for themes and pay attention to wording. However, not having Spurgeon’s study notes for every word, verse, or passage allow me to digest the Psalm and write my own notes. Not only can I write my notes, but prayers, song lyrics, and poems.

Would I Recommend?

To be short, yes. I really like this edition of the Psalms. I have taken this edition hiking in order to read in nature. I love being able to write my own notes. The space to write and create is perfectly sized for whatever you want to write.

To have Scripture with me and have my time with God in nature with this edition is such a gateway in my relationship with God.

Link for Purchase

I was given this book for free to review this item for Bible Gateway as I am a part of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid.

My Compass

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” – C.S. Lewis

I feel lost in the chaos of my mind.

Each thought leads to a different path. Each path can’t be taken at once. I have to choose my path.

But, which path should I choose?

A compass always points north. When the compass is broken I cannot find my way. I begin to follow paths that bring destruction to my soul rather than life.

It is time I choose…

The Ecclesiastical East

When my compass points East, I find myself focused on the church. It isn’t the church in the biblical sense. Instead, it is a obsession with an institution.

I live by how a group of people view me. Do I meet their standards? Do I appear good enough to them? Have I covered up enough for them?

The weight on my soul is a pharisaical pressure. The rules, the lists, the image… The very core of my being is held together by how well I handle their pressure on my soul. It is the same weight given by the religious leaders in the time of Christ. They tiered your relationship with God by how well you followed their standards.

Do you dress a certain way? Do you stop listening to certain music? Do you believe the right positions? Do you go to the right kind of church? Do you say what you are supposed to say and think what you are supposed to think?

You cover anything “too worldly.” Your path is one of following in the steps outlined for you. There is no guidance of the Spirit down this path. It is man’s traditions and man’s systematic theology that dictates where to step.

It is honestly a path of slavery.

Where does it lead?

I have been down this road. It is a path of destruction. The Ecclesiastical East caused me to cover up, wear masks, and fall in line. But, the burden inside grew heavier and heavier. It was their way or the way to hell. It is all I could see. I popped, and attempted to take my own life.

So often I forget where this direction led me, and I return towards the East. Remembering keeps me off this path.

The Worldly West

However, if my compass takes me to the West, I end up worldly.

When I say “worldly,” I am not saying smoking, drinking, sleeping around, etc. That is the Ecclesiastical East’s path. When I study Scripture, I truly believe that being worldly is to reject God and not live in his creation with him as your center. Instead, you put yourself as the decider of the path.

When I John 2 talks about not loving the world, it is not about what you’re actually loving. Instead, it is about what you love more – God or your own desires and decisions. Everything becomes about you.

The Worldly West is about giving up my faith. So many people have asked after all the hurt I’ve been dealt by Christians and the church, how can I stay inside the church?

Why?

Because, there is something inside me that can’t let go of Jesus. There is something inside me that draws me to Scripture. There is something that draws me to worship music.

It is not the opiate sensation creating a high for the masses. Instead, those things bring me life. For the longest time, “the spiritual disciplines” were seen as a way to God. But now, they express my relationship with God.

How can I throw off my faith when God really has done so much for me? He spared my life. He brought me an understanding wife who loves me and never gives up on me when everyone would tell us to divorce. He placed friends in my life when I walked away from fundamentalism who showed me Jesus reaching for me rather than judging me.

To throw away my faith and leave God would leave me in despair. Nothing would make sense without God. Even though the Worldly West puts me in charge, it takes away the relationship I was created to cultivate deeper than any romance on earth.

The Stalemate South

When I turn my eyes to the South, I am met with the stalemate path. This is the direction that focuses on my past. The guides are those who have abused me, used me, and take to me to sit stuck sulking in my past.

This is a path I love to turn and fantasize about. I want to follow the justice I want towards those who have wronged me. I want to run after the “what ifs” of changing the past and swimming in the rivers of regrets.

Yet, this doesn’t lead to anywhere. It is a dead end. It is the Stalemate South. It never goes anywhere. It is a path that circles and circles and circles. You think you will obtain justice, you think you will escape pain, you think you will be better, but where does it lead?

It leads to a dizzy end of vomiting out bitterness and unforgiveness… which leads to that cycle again and again.

The New Life North

However, when my compass points North, I become uneasy. I become anxious.

It is because it is New Life North.

The path is of a new life I’ve never experienced. It is unfamiliar with things I am not used to. It is filled with twists and turns unexpected and mysterious. It is filled with questions, tensions, and paradoxes.

Everything in me doesn’t want it, because it is new. New is not comfortable. New is not safe as I see it.

The guide towards New Life North is the true Jesus. It is not the commodity Jesus who hangs on the cross just to get a transaction complete. It is not the picture perfect, white Jesus. It is not the Jesus who calls me to a list of rules or an image.

This Jesus holds my hand. This Jesus promises an abundant life. This Jesus reaches out to me, tells me to pick up what I see as the bad in my life, and to follow him.

He is the Jesus who brings life; while all other paths bring destruction.

It does not make sense that Jesus would want my struggles, my confusion, my paradoxes, my questions, my tensions, and my chaos. But in this new life, it is truly new. He takes me one step at a time. He does not want me worrying about finding all the answers. Jesus looks at me and says, “Take my hand. Let me carry your bags. I was meant to take up your cross. I will walk ahead of you. Just follow me.”

Jesus,
You have given me a compass to walk the path of abundant, joy-filled life. I swat your hand away, because I fear the newness of where you lead me. I turn away to all the other directions, because they make sense. There is more comfort in what I know, than in a new. But, the more I follow these directions the more death and chaos is brought into my life. I have forgotten the Jesus of life and believed the false Jesus presented to me in my past. You desire a relationship with me that is intimate, close, and special. You don’t desire my works, perfections, and looks. You do want my struggles, tensions, paradoxes, and confusion. Because when I give them to you I follow your way through them rather than running in every direction to avoid them. Avoiding them leads me away from your living water. Your living water gives me the strength to face them, to look them in the eye and be bold with you by my side. Jesus, I have been wrong in turning all directions out of fear of the new. Forgive me for how I have left your hand for the chaos of all the other directions. I take up your hand and take on your path again.
In your name and in your relationship of the new, Amen.

This is where I start again.

This is where I take a step back to where I was.

This is where I let go. This is where I can accept being the “Bruno” of my family. This is where I can wrestle with the “inner red panda” of my life. This is where I can safely cry, question, doubt, and be vulnerable.

This is where I can be me with no masks, no fear, and no instability.

It takes time. It takes more time than I thought.

But, I will admit. I am weak. I stumble. I want to turn everyway. I need friends to pray for me, love on me, and to walk with me down this path. I need to be open and honest when I turn the other directions.

But, when I follow my compass North to New Life, I find the everything swarming around. However, it no longer stresses me out or causes panic. Sometimes it may, but I know there is something there I’ve longed for.

Hope.

As I walk North, hope arises in me that I will see and find a relationship in Jesus like I’ve never experienced before.

This is where I am at.

This is where my compass is pointing.