Just an ordinary day

18 04 2013

For the United States Monday was a terrible day. It was a reminder of people’s capacity to do evil. It was also a reminder of people’s capacity to do good. Many ran towards the scene to help demonstrating compassion and courage.

As Christians we see these acts of good and evil and it reminds us what the Bible teaches. In Genesis 2 God offered Adam and Eve a beautiful creation with an understanding they would trust and obey. True trust and true obedience requires the ability to choose to not trust and to not obey. God placed a tree in their midst that would allow them to make that choice. They were told to not eat from a tree known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice it was not called the evil tree. It was a tree with a fruit on it that if eaten would cause us to trust in ourselves more than God and would lead us to set up our own rules rather than obey God’s. Chapter 3 tells us Adam and Eve choose to eat from the tree. Fast forward and we have Monday.

Thankfully God did not give up on us. In fact, God loved us so much he went the full distance and died for us. Thankfully that was not the end of the story. Just weeks ago we celebrated Easter and God’s victory over sin and death. There is this hope Christians have that the evil of this world is limited. We are hopeful because God offers to transform us. As we choose to trust and obey God, we see our lives changed. Hope becomes our calling card. God established the church to be a gathering place for those who have been transformed with the understanding we would go out and make this world a better place.

By now you should be trying to figure out what my title (Just an ordinary day) has to do with what I have shared so far. I am glad you asked.

What if those who were responsible for the evil on Monday had encountered Jesus? What if there was a healthy church with people who reached out in their neighborhood? What if they made a commitment to trust and obey God?

They would have been transformed and Monday would have been just an ordinary day.

If you will offer me a little grace I would like to push us. Sadly in this world there are places where Monday would have been just an ordinary day. Places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that don’t make the news in the U.S. face events like Monday far too frequently. When Americans hear those stories, we are saddened but quickly move on and worry about dinner. What if there were healthy churches there? What if lives were transformed? What if they had hope?

As Christians we have a powerful message. Let us commit to making our churches healthy. Let us reach out and make our communities better places. Let us also commit the next time we hear a story of a bombing in another part of the world that we will pause and pray just as hard as we prayed Monday remembering that God loves the world and the church is global.





Pure Joy

29 01 2013

Have you ever had a bad day?  I know.  It was a silly question.  We all have bad days.  Some have bad weeks and others face years of struggle.  The longer we live the more we understand that life is not fair and suffering is a reality we must deal with.  Most people intellectually understand we need to respond well during difficult times.  To help us feel guilty we see stories of someone who has it way worse than we do but handles it with much more grace and dignity than us.

To increase our guilt the Bible seems to support this high standard of handling difficult situations with a positive outlook.  Take a look at what James said in his letter:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2 NIV)

I did a study of the verse and while the translators who wrote the NIV used the word “pure,” if you look at the original Greek the letter was written in you could also use the word “all.”  Imagine having a perspective of all joy while facing a trial.

So if you are a “good” Christian you walk around with a fake smile and praise God for the trial you are going through.  But what if the Bible is right?  What if there is this joy that is all-encompassing you can have as you go through a trial?  I believe that level of joy is available and waiting for us.

To get there we need to take two steps.  First, we have to believe this was not the way God wants things to be.  For proof just look at his reaction in Genesis Chapter 3.  We live in a fallen world.  This is why one of the pictures we use is the picture of God redeeming us or saving us.  This is why we look forward to Jesus returning.  We don’t expect Jesus to just stop by Wal-Mart on his way to Jerusalem.  We expect Jesus to bring an end to this fallen world and restore creation to God’s original plan.

Second, we need to see God’s response was to become personally involved and face suffering directly.  Jesus faced a wide range of pain and suffering before ultimately facing the cross.  Bottom line God gets it.

That’s when it hit me.  Those moments of all-encompassing joy happen in those intimate times of prayer when I am crying out to God and he hugs me and I know he understands.  The hug feels like a deep inner peace wrapped in compassion.  It is powerful.  In that moment my perspective changes and I am able to have a joy that puts things into perspective.  I am also reminded that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story.  He conquered sin and death and put suffering on notice that it’s time is limited.

I know there are a wide range of responses to what I just said.  For some they fully agree and have experienced those hugs.  For others they have lost that sense of connection with God or are angry with God and the last thing they want is to have God hug them.

Books have been written on this topic and a short devotional will not answer everything.  I would tell you that trials are the point where theology (our understanding of God) and practical life meet face to face.  We are forced to come to terms with what we believe about God and ourselves.

For those of you who have experienced those hugs I encourage you to spend some time thanking God.

For those who need a hug I encourage you to take a systematic theology class….not really.  I encourage you to not give up and to seek God in the midst of your trial.  It may mean talking with someone about what you believe and adjusting your understanding of God.  You may have to wait a little longer with confidence that at just the right time God will give you that hug.  The peace is amazing, the compassion is phenomenal and the love in incredible.

God is good.  I believe it.  I have experienced it and I hope you will too.





But I have prayed for you

23 03 2012

Sometimes life is hard, really hard. As a Navy Chaplain I have walked with people down some very difficult roads. One of the hardest parts of facing difficult situations is dealing with “why.” Why did it happen? Why am I going through this? Many people assume it is God’s will or a part of God’s plan. Others attribute it to fate. I disagree with both of those perspectives.

Christians believe something went terribly wrong in the world. We call it the fall of humanity. It is described in Genesis chapter three. We see Adam and Eve choose to violate God’s command. The results are ugly. The very next chapter tells the story of two brothers, Cain and Able. Able does everything right but is murdered by Cain. Very early in the Bible we see evil and unfairness.

God’s response was to stay involved. In fact, God is personally involved. Christians believe Jesus is more than a man. We believe he is God who became a man. Jesus faced the evil and unfairness of this world. The verse that hit home for me this week was when Jesus was talking to Peter (aka Simon) just before he faced the cross. He told him:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Just as Jesus had to face the cross sometimes we have to face difficult circumstances. Peter would blow it. He would deny he even knew Jesus when Jesus was facing his darkest hour. But Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus was watching over Peter and knew that he would make it. He also wanted Peter to know he expected him to help the other disciples. Peter was the leader Jesus had chosen. He would walk with Peter through the difficult circumstance and Peter would be the leader he was suppose to be.

I like the way the Apostle Paul put it. He said “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). This is a better perspective. This paints the picture of God being able to enter into the evil and unfair situations in our life and redeem them. He takes a bad situation and brings good from it. It wasn’t his plan for that to happen. He just doesn’t let evil and unfairness have the final word. He gets the final word.

Jesus is treated unfairly and experiences the consequences of evil men. He is not a distant God but a personal God who understands the realities of this life. You and I hate evil and unfairness but we only understand a small part of the larger picture. God sees the big picture and I promise his heart breaks in ways we can’t imagine. His deep love for us is why he got involved and why he faced the cross.

Why doesn’t God just make everything okay? I don’t know and God doesn’t seem interested in answering why. He just prays our faith won’t fail.

God promised to make everything right one day and in his timing. Until that day I trust him and I follow him. I commit to getting personally involved and I am going to pray. When someone makes a mistake, I will help them get back up and encourage them to become the person God knows they will be. Will you join me?

Of course we will need people who will pray for us. We need people who will get involved in our lives and when we make a mistake encourage us to get up and continue becoming the person God knows we will be.

How does all of this happen? It happens with a God who is personally involved, who has prayed for us and encourages us to keep going.