We don’t need Jesus

3 02 2015

They say catchy titles will draw people to read your post.  Did it work?

Can I be honest?  I see some truth in the title.

“Give us our daily bread”  Honestly, I look for that in my paycheck that comes faithfully twice a month.

“Your will be done” is great as long as it can be accomplished on the weekends and preferably not during football season.

When a crisis hits, the need for Jesus shines brightly.  As a Chaplain I am in awe when I bring the power of the Gospel into a situation.  I am always amazed and humbled when God moves me out of the way and touches hearts.  Then, I go home where I have a good marriage and, while my kids frustrate me from time to time, they have normal middle class American problems.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done.  On the night he was handed over to be crucified he has a desperate time of prayer and says “not my will but your will be done.”

Wow!  Jesus lives out the very thing he taught.  I am convicted.

If you can relate to me, I challenge you as I challenge myself to re-engage our world.  I don’t believe we have to wait for a crisis.  We just need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.

My conviction was helped by a NPR story on my drive home.  The reporter was being honest that the stories of Jesus seemed distant but a priest who stood up for the poor and was killed for his stand made the stories of Jesus real.  No, I do not want us go out and get shot.  However, when we engage our world, we bring hope and make Jesus real in lives of the people around us.  Then, we have the privilege of watching our Savior change lives.

After listening to the story I went into the store to pick up a couple of items.  As I looked around, the Holy Spirit pointed out that each person I saw had a story and God loved them.  It was an invitation to join him as he looks for his “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I want that. I need that.  I need Jesus.





Being Human

14 09 2014

Welcome to the human race!  How do you know you are a human?  Do you say, “I don’t care what other people think” but secretly do?  Do you feel like everyone else in the group “clicks” except you?  Do you have something you are ashamed or embarrassed about?  Do you feel you have to live up to an image instead of just being yourself?

I most likely hit the mark with one of those questions proving you are human.  What a relief!  We can all say “I am screwed up just like everyone else!”

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it (of course with God’s help).

He wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Paul thought he was the worst sinner out there.  That is a very honest assessment.  Each one of us could say the same thing and believe it.  I often say the only reason Paul wrote he was the worst sinner is I wasn’t born yet.  We truly know just how bad we can be.  We are there for every single sin we commit.  We also know our thoughts and intentions.  We know what we are thinking and to be honest we can think about some pretty bad stuff.

Bottom line: Paul was human

His realistic perspective gives us hope.  If he can be redeemed.  If he can have a right relationship with God.  Then, we can be redeemed and have a right relationship with God.  This is critical because one of the most common misperceptions I hear is “I have blown it so bad there is no hope for me.” Paul reminds us there is always hope.

There is another amazing reality in this passage.  Paul does not list a whole bunch of things he has to do.  Instead he points to God’s mercy and Jesus’… patience.

You have to let that sink in.  God’s response to us being human is to give mercy and be patient.

No wonder the very next thing Paul writes is:

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 17)

He had a moment of worship.  I am also humbled by the reality of these verses.  In our culture (the United States) we tend to focus on things we have to do or labels we can give.

Philip Yancey wrote a book called “What’s so Amazing about Grace.”  He shared a story in which a person is challenged to describe the gospel in a sentence.  I have modified the language but basically he said: “We are all screw-ups but God loves us anyway.”

Where are you today?  Have you bought into a lie that you are so screwed up you can not be redeemed?  Paul would disagree.  Do you believe you are redeemed but now are working so hard to maintain your relationship with God you have no joy or peace?  Paul would invite you to accept God’s mercy and be thankful for Jesus’ patience.

I love the picture of Jesus smiling and telling his Dad just how much he loves us as he shakes his head, takes a deep breath and is…patient.





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





Unfairness

1 05 2013

I love that the Bible is willing to say what we are thinking. The book of Ecclesiastes does a great job of capturing a common frustration.
Chapter 9 verse11:
“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

This verse is a stinging reality. A great person loses their job while an incompetent person is promoted. A phenomenal singer never gets their big break while a mediocre singer becomes a star. As I was thinking of a third example, it was humbling because many of the struggles I could mention would be painful to others.

Life is not fair. I struggle in those moments and try to figure out what I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or there something I should have done differently. Of course, I know I am reading too much into it but sometimes there was something I could have done differently making the waters muddy. It can be very frustrating and can drive me crazy if I let it.

Here is the interesting part. The Bible does not try to answer why these things happen. Instead it just lays out the picture and lets us see reality. Acts 12 captures this. The beginning of the chapter starts with the Apostle James being killed and Peter being arrested with it being clear he would face the same fate. The church prays and Peter is miraculously released from prison. Did the church not pray for James? Were they suppose to do more? Could James have been saved? The Bible is silent. It just tells us that James was killed and Peter was saved.

This is when our faith is stretched to its limits. Those of us who have been around the block can quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The question is, when we are alone and truly honest with ourselves, do we believe it?

I keep coming back to yes.

It is not because things always work out for me. It is because when I look at the world without God, there is harshness and a lack of depth that I reject. When I look to God, I find a depth of love and peace that grounds me and a hope that sustains me. The result of an unfair world is my focus is sharpened, my relationships become deeper and I become stronger. In other words, God and I get the last laugh.

We all know someone who is facing a frustrating and unfair situation. Would you take some time to pray for them? Yes, we should always pray for a miraculous intervention like Peter received. We should also pray for God’s love and peace to shine through and for the person to grow and mature remembering “time and chance” will be overcome by love and eternity.





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.





Life transformation and immediate gratification

10 04 2013

I love the speed at which we can get things today. If I want a book I simply check to see if there is an e-book version and with a click I can be reading it. If I want to know something I go to Google and within seconds I have the answer. I also know that when I have a slow internet connection and something takes longer than 5 seconds I become impatient. If the book is not available on Kindle I am frustrated. Bottom line: I want what I want NOW.

I think I have seen this slipping into my walk with God. If I pray for something, I want my prayer answered…now. If I struggle with something I should be able to overcome it by…this afternoon at the latest.

However, when I step back and see people truly transformed by God very rarely is it immediately. There are dramatic moments but more often than not it is this slow and steady change seen only when we look back and reflect.

Matthew 13:1-13 gives us the inside story on one of Jesus’ parables. He talks about four types of soil and then goes on to explain the meaning of each type to his disciples.

One type is shallow soil that does not have the depth to allow the seed to take a firm root. It shoots up quickly but life happens quicker and soon the plant is scorched and withered. Another type is soil with weeds and refers to the worries and troubles of this life choking out the seed.

As I become more impatient and distracted I fear I am becoming like those two soils and I missing out on what God is trying to do in my life. (Feel free to admit you struggle with the same thing. I just didn’t want to be the one to point it out.)

Those who have been faithfully plugging along continue to grow in depth and maturity. When hard situations happen in their lives, they are able to rise above the circumstances and graces shines through. Meanwhile, those who have not given God time to work get frustrated and give up. Those who don’t slow down to really consider God’s wisdom see their situation get worse as they feel pressure from all the worries of this world.

It makes perfect sense. God typically goes against our expectations and standards. In our time of immediate gratification and multiple distractions it would only make sense that God would move slowly and would encourage us to focus in order to see his transformative work in our lives.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 God tells us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

If we take that to heart then I need to be a lot more patient and intentional at looking for God. In other words there is probably not an App for this.

I encourage you to take some time and reflect. Look back and see if you can catch God working. Look for distractions you need to remove so you can better focus on the things of God. Then, spend some time thanking God and committing to following God for the long haul. Will there still be amazing moments and dramatic stories of God’s intervention? Absolutely. However, I am truly amazed as I look in the opposite direction the world is going, as I slow down and I take the time to not be distracted. I find a loving, patient God who is quietly transforming lives.