But I assumed…

2 09 2015

What if you went to Chick-Fil-A and saw a hamburger on the menu?  They would have some explaining to do and they may want to rethink their ad campaign.

We have expectations and those expectations lead to assumptions.  I have been convicted about the importance of key assumptions we need to effectively live out our Christian Faith.  I will spend the next few blog posts talking about them.

Assumption one:  We are equal

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

In the United States we love to believe we get it when it comes to equality.  We point to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

Of course, we gloss over “all men” did not include slaves or women.  Isn’t that how it often goes?  We say everyone is equal but our actions often reveal some different assumptions.

The biggest assumption I see when it comes to Christianity is “my sin is bigger than other people’s therefore I can’t be forgiven or be a part of God’s plan.”  Too many people sideline their relationship with God and others because of this.  If we can grasp that we are equal then we recognize that sin is sin and we all struggle with it.  We have to hear Paul’s words, “no temptation has overtaken you but what is common…” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Once I realize you and I are the same, then I see there is hope.  Sin is put in proper perspective and managed by God’s grace and transforming work in my life.

For those who have overcome sins in their life, there is another dangerous assumption: “I am not like them.”  This assumption often plagues those inside the church.  We acknowledge that we were once sinners like “them” but we add a subtle twist to the story of God’s grace.  We take credit for our victory.  We will use spiritual terms but our actions show what we really believe.  Those with this assumption often make decisions for God about who is in and out.  This was exactly the mindset of the Religious Leaders Jesus fought against.

This idea of being equal before God has very big implications.  It sets the stage for all of us have the chance at redemption and helps us stay balanced as we grow and mature in our faith.  It builds bridges and helps us connect to others…all others without discrimination.

Today there are lot’s of discussions about racism and discrimination.  Political solutions look bleak as politicians label and attack anyone who has a different point of view.

It is an amazing opportunity for the Church.  We can step in and truly engage our world in a uniquely powerful way.  We see everyone as someone just like us.

Do you really believe we are all equal or do you find yourself making assumptions that limits you or excludes others?

If you do not see us as equal, I invite you to pray and consider the implication of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  When we grasp our equality, it is an incredible truth that ripples through our life.  It will deepen our relationship with God and each other.





The Tale of Two Crowds

1 04 2015

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That is the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s. It was about the two very different worlds of the rich and the poor during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the brutality of those two worlds colliding.

The idea of two different worlds colliding is what it feels like in the week leading up to Easter. Palm Sunday shows one crowd praising Jesus.  Then, just a few short days later another crowd is shouting for his death.

When Matthew tells the story of Palm Sunday, he mentions a prophecy told in Zechariah 9:9. It is a great reminder that God’s plan will never be swayed by the crowd. Events were unfolding according to God’s will to redeem humanity.  (Matthew’s account is found in Matthew 21:1-11)

While God may be unchanging, we are very easily swayed by the crowd. If you ever read social science experiments you will see that under the right conditions we can be made to do almost anything. It is kind of scary. Just last year Facebook got in some hot water when it was revealed that they had been manipulating news feeds to see how it would impact people’s posting habits.

That leads to our second crowd. Mark 15:11-15 tells us that the people who shouted “crucify him” had been stirred up by the religious leaders. Even though Pilate knew they were being manipulated, he went along with it and satisfied the crowd’s insistence to kill Jesus.

It is a stark reminder we live in a fallen world. We actively and passively rebel against God and we can be lead down that path very easily. Of course, we always believe it will not happen to us.

That is what Peter thought. In Mark 14:29-31 he said even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. I believe Peter had very good intentions but as we watch the story unfold those good intentions fail. He falls asleep when Jesus needed him to pray (Mark 14:33-40). He got violent (John 18:10) and he denied him when the pressure was on (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter is just like you and me. We often have good intentions but in the pressures of life we find ourselves defeated just as Peter did.

Luke 22:31-32 gives us more insight into what happened with Peter. Jesus warns him that Satan wanted to shift Peter like wheat. Jesus also told him that he had prayed for him. What an amazing picture! Jesus praying for Peter.

On this side of the Easter story the picture becomes even more amazing. Hebrews describes Jesus serving as our mediator (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24).  Paul will remind Timothy of that reality in 1Timothy 2:5. We have access to God in a profound and powerful way. WOW!

This is what we are celebrating on Easter. Jesus did the work to restore our relationship with His Father conquering both sin and death.

My prayer for each of us is that we will pause and reflect on the significance of Easter. It will require facing our part in crucifying him. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the one who was not swayed by the crowds but instead focused on his Father’s Will and extends an invitation to us for a new life and the privilege of being in His crowd.





Repentance

22 02 2012

What comes to mind when you hear the word “repent?”  I think of a guy yelling on the street corner or a fire and brimstone preacher.  It is safe to say we tend to have a negative stereotype of people who tell us to repent which makes us have a negative view of repentance.  This is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  These are major events within a large number of Christian communities.  The idea of repentance is part of this season.  Because it is not an idea we talk about often and there is a tendency to have a negative view of it, I thought it would be appropriate to pause and focus on it.

My definition.  I see repenting or repentance as a two-step process.  Step one is to stop doing something that is wrong.  Step two is to start doing something that is right.  What if the guy on the street corner was Martin Luther King?  He called us to repent.  He wanted us to stop segregation and start being a just society.  We see this with those who promote environmental awareness.  They call us to stop polluting and wasting resources and start recycling and conserving resources.  I could list any number of causes and most likely you have a couple close to your heart such as human trafficking or AIDS.  No matter what the issue is we see value in calling people to stop doing something harmful and start doing the right thing.  Now the guy on the corner can add value.  We need to be called to repentance.  Sometimes we get it wrong and we need people who will call us out and make us change.

Of course if this was easy, we wouldn’t need to spend time talking about it.  If you are like me, we have no problem pointing out other people’s shortcomings.  We just “telling it like it is” or “shooting straight” with them.  However, just let them try and do the same thing to us.  This is a benefit of Ash Wednesday.  It forces us to pause and reflect.

I see two paths people tend to take that miss the point of repentance.  The first path is to blame something or someone else.  “It is because of my past” or “If she hadn’t of done that” is our defense.  Yes our past affects us and yes other people can influence us but at the end of the day we have to take personal responsibility for our actions especially if they hurt someone else.  The second path is to tear ourselves down with no hope we can change.   We create a negative image of ourselves and get stuck in a vicious downward spiral.

As a follower of Jesus, I look to him to get repentance right.  One of his first messages was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).  Here is the amazing thing.  He doesn’t begin to list a whole bunch of things we have to do.  Jesus has what I like to call a “byproduct mentality.”  In other words, when my focus is right I naturally do the right things.  In other words, my actions will be the byproduct of my heart.  When a parent truly loves a child, the parent doesn’t have to be told to take care of their child.  They naturally provide and do what is in the best interest of their child.  They may need help or education.  However, they want to learn and they accept the help because their focus is on the wellbeing of their child.  You see the same thing in a healthy marriage.  A husband wants to show love to his wife.  If he hurts her he is sorry and repents.  Repentance is easy because of the love he has for her.

This is why Jesus is so harsh with the religious leaders.  They stopped focusing on their relationship with God and focused on all the things they had to do.  They were actually hurting the people around them.  Jesus’ call to repentance wasn’t for them to add more things on their “to do” list.  He was inviting them to refocus on their relationship with God and care for the people around them.  Jesus says everything hangs on the commandment to love God and love others.  Both Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-33 are great snapshots of Jesus sharing this principle.  This makes sense.  When I focus on loving God and you, I naturally do what is good for the relationship.

Jesus’ call for repentance is an invitation to focus on our relationship with God and each other.  The cross stands as a huge reminder Jesus was focused on our relationship.  Let’s use this season to slow down.  We need to look for where we have gotten out of step with loving God and each other.  As we see those areas and as we reflect on the cross, may our response be to repent.