Reflections on a Red Nose

26 05 2017

Yesterday was one of those cool days.  People around the country donated over $33 million to help children in need.  Next year I am sure they will be able to raise even more.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Regional Task Force on Homelessness Governance Board meeting.  One of the presenters made the point if San Diego truly worked together we could get homelessness to functional zero in five years.

Currently our city has an estimated homeless population just over 9,000.  That population grew from the previous year despite thousands of people doing random acts of kindness, wearing red noses and shopping at Walmart. (Recent Walmart ads say they contribute to feeding the poor when you spend money with them.)

There is a price to our individualism.  The significant issues in our world are handled ineffectively while we feel satisfied because of our individual efforts to make the world a better place.  It is like putting out a forest fire by each of us taking our own little cup of water and randomly throwing it into the flames.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend two different churches.  One had smart people and was well resourced.  The other was not well resourced but had people who truly were in need.  The two churches are not connected even though they have the same beliefs.  Each had their cup of water as the forest fire raged.

Deuteronomy (24:19-22) and Ruth show ways in which the Nation of Israel established a system of care for those in need.  The New Testament shows the Church being a collective body caring for those in need.

The Church has a strategic opportunity (as it always does) to be a unified force impacting our world.  Lets ask harder questions of ourselves and our leaders.  Issues like homelessness and child poverty can be complex but we have really smart people sitting in our Churches every Sunday morning.

Are we going to let corporations and governments outperform the Church?  I recently finished the book “The New Parish.”  It offered a powerful perspective on leadership.  The authors challenged us to ask the question: What is worth following?  Let that question sink in.  Then, let’s take our cups of water remembering Jesus’ words:

“When I was hungry you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” Matthew 25:35.





Blessed by God

1 03 2012

What do you think when you hear “God bless you”…besides sneezing.  What does it mean to be blessed by God?  Does it mean you have an easy life or all your dreams come true?  Are you wealthy or happy?  I think it is safe to say we like the idea of God’s blessing but what does it really look like.

I was reflecting on the blessing God gave Aaron to use for the Nation of Israel.  It is found in Numbers 6:22-26.  It says:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (NIV)

It is an amazing blessing at a lot of levels.  Typically we think of a blessing as a gift.  We give gifts (hopefully) that are valuable and meaningful.  If God gives valuable and meaningful gifts, what does God find valuable and meaningful?  I believe God values relationships above everything else.  If that is true (and I think I can make a pretty good case for it) then those things that draw me closer to God and you would be a blessing.  We tend to see this naturally.  We look for meaningful relationships.  A good friend is better than all the money in the world.

When life is going good, if I were honest, I don’t focus on my relationship with God or you.  I tend to be selfish.  I tend to be more concerned with my comfort rather than how I treat people.  It is actually when life is difficult or I am facing a tough situation that I focus on my relationship with God and others.  It is when I am forced to decide what I truly value that I appreciate my relationships.  The result is my relationships become richer and more meaningful.

If that is the case, do I want to attribute bad situations to God?  If God is good then that doesn’t make sense.  As a Christian, I believe bad situations are a result of being in a fallen world.  This is not the way God intended things to be.  God has no desire to see us suffer.  God is not happy when we struggle.  Ultimately that is why Jesus comes and faces suffering and the cross.  God’s desire for a relationship with us drove him to face suffering so that we might have a full and meaningful relationship with him.  This unique perspective gives God the ability to work through times we are suffering and struggling and bless us by adding depth to the quality of our relationships.

This is why we can always be blessed by God regardless of our situation and in fact be even more blessed when things are hard.  In order to see this we have to have a perspective there is more to life than what we have here.  The Apostle Paul said it best when he said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  Paul said this in the context of talking about a risen Jesus Christ.  If Jesus did conquer sin and death then we have a lot of reason to hope.  We also have a very different perspective on our current circumstances.  They are temporary but our relationship with God and the people around us are eternal.

How do we apply this to our life?  When life is going good, we need to be cautious.  We need to intentionally guard against being selfish or focusing on things that really don’t matter.  We need invest fully and completely in our relationship with God and each other.  When life is hard, we need to take a deep breath and grab a hold of our relationship with God and others.  We find who our true friends are during these moments.  We tend to experience God’s presence in powerful ways and appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy.

I am not sure what your day will bring.  I am not sure what circumstance you will face.  I am confident I can ask God to bless you.  If at the end of the day you are closer to God and the people around you, you are blessed.





Mercy and God’s desire

2 02 2012

Most people will agree that having discipline in your life is good such as exercising regularly or skipping dessert from time to time.  There are also spiritual disciplines that have been practiced throughout the centuries such as fasting or serving that help us grow spiritually.  One of my spiritual disciplines is to continually read through the Bible.  Last year I read through the New Testament and this year I am reading through the Old Testament.  One of the reasons it is called discipline is because you have to power through those times when you don’t have the desire to do it.  That is me when I get to the second half of Exodus.  It goes into incredible detail about the Tabernacle which was the place of worship the Israelites were told to build before entering the Promise Land.  I grit my teeth and power through how wide something is suppose to be and what type of material is suppose to be used.  However, this time God honored my discipline with some insight.

In Exodus 25:17 one of the ways to translate the Hebrew word used to describe the lid for the Ark of the Covenant is “the mercy seat.”  Those who are not familiar with the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the holiest place.  Please don’t miss that in the very first place of worship God directed to be built was the picture of mercy in the most sacred area.

When I thought about it, it made perfect sense. The author of Hebrews said in 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We know as we continue to read Hebrews the Tabernacle was a picture of what was happening in Heaven (Hebrews 8 and 9). God’s desire has always been to give mercy.

We like mercy for ourselves but we have to be honest; we are not too excited about mercy for other people. One of my favorite passages capturing this comes from the book of Jonah. Jonah had been sent to tell the people of Nineveh God was about to execute judgment on their city because of their sins. The people’s response was remorse and they repented. God’s response; mercy. Jonah’s response; pouting.

Jonah 4:1-3 says “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”

Hmmm, does it strike anyone else as funny to think someone would be mad at God for being gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love?  However, that could easily be me when someone receives grace and mercy when I believe they deserve to be punished.  I am really glad I am not God.

Is God holy?  Yes.  Does God desire to give mercy?  Yes.  The Tabernacle acknowledged these two aspects of God.  God is holy and in the midst of that holiness is mercy.  Mercy invites us to a relationship with God.  God wants us to come close and have confidence as we approach him.

How do we apply this?  First, we have to look at our own relationship with God.  If you view God as distant and just waiting to pounce when you make a mistake, I hope you will reevaluate your view.  I hope you can grasp that God’s desire is to give mercy.  This does not mean we do whatever we want.  That would be disregarding his holiness.  It means God starts with the desire to give grace and mercy.  There is more depth to this and I would recommend talking with someone you respect who is mature in their faith to help explore this.  Second, we need to really look at how we are treating the people around us.  Is our desire to give mercy?  Is our hope that we can extend grace and be compassionate?  If we can make it our desire, then we will be in step with God.  Someone else can pout about how we are slow to get angry and we seem to be gracious and compassionate to the people around us.  Yeah, I would find it funny if people were complaining about that.

PS.  This devotional came as a result of practicing a spiritual discipline in my life.  I would encourage you to look at practicing spiritual disciplines in your life.  If that is a new concept for you, talk with someone you respect and let them help you.