Stuck right between Obadiah and Micah is a short four chapter book called Jonah. If you have spent any time in or around a Sunday school room, you have heard the story of Jonah and the whale/big fish. It usually is served up with goldfish crackers to really drive the message home. Overall the book gives us a singular purpose of showing the extent of God’s grace, and ultimately salvation for all people. Since most of us are familiar with that story, I thought I would jump ahead to the aftermath of Jonah actually doing what God asked of him. “This change of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry”Jonah 4:1 (NLT). Wait…what? You read that right, Jonah got angry because God spared the people and animals of Ninevah. In fact, he was so angry that the majority of chapter four reads like one of Ralph and Alice Kramden’s fights. Ralph…I mean Jonah goes off on a tangent about how he knew God would change His mind and save all those people. Jonah is actually angry that God in His infinite wisdom decides to show compassion and grace instead of drone bombing…I mean decimating the city. Jonah uses the Meg Griffin angsty quip “kill me now” like four times. He would have played a moody teen well on one of these new teen dramas – “I’ll love you forever Dawson!”. I can hear his theme music now. However, even in the midst of Jonah’s temper tantrum, God shows mercy and sends a vine to grow and shade Jonah from the heat of the sun. But, the next day a worm comes and eats the plant. Jonah goes full tree hugger with a splash of My So-Called Life. He’s actually more angry about the plant dying than the possibility that God could have destroyed a city of more than 120,000 people. Perspective, and politics, it’ll get you every single time. Now, what’s the point? Jonah is the only prophetic book that focuses on the story of the prophet alone rather than on the prophecies. The book is written as a historical narrative. I believe that Jonah was a minor prophet because he failed to see the bigger picture. He didn’t make the majors because rather than being the servant he was meant to be, he wanted to complain because God didn’t do what Jonah thought that He should. You see, that is the disconnect in western Christianity today. We want God to do our bidding. Our prayers, our offerings, and even our willingness to attend are singularly focused on what we want, and what we care about. That’s just not how being a servant works. Claiming we are Christians entails that we carry the torch. We bring love, forgiveness, compassion, peace and empathy with us. Because that’s what Jesus would do (oh yes I did). Don’t blanket your faith in politics. If you’re going to serve Christ, do it unabashedly and without a hidden agenda. In the end, your plan falls to dust anyway. Ask yourself this, is the “H” in my He or Him upper or lower case? If your response was lower, then you’re just a fan.
Tonight is my fourteenth wedding anniversary, and because of this, I think the topic of forgiveness is very appropriate. The inability to forgive or hold grudges made my list at number three, but in many ways, it is the most dangerous, and comes with the most to lose. In staying with the recurring theme and motive, the issue of forgiveness should be the first thing a new disciple of Christ comes to an agreement with and understands. Without forgiveness, everything else is meaningless in our faith. Jesus becomes just a man dying on a cross for something that He believed in – a single martyr with no legacy. Even His resurrection means nothing without the act of forgiveness. It is this issue, the lack of a forgiving heart; that bothers me more frequently than any other matter in the Christian church today. It is also this inability to forgive that makes us rigid and hard. Jeremiah also referred to as the weeping prophet, records in the eighteenth chapter of his book,
The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.
“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’”
But the people replied, “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.”(1-12).
Note the question God proposes, “O Israel, can I not do to you as the potter has done to his clay?”. Anyone that has seen the movie Ghost, or worked with clay understands the dilemma and frustration in these words. Clay can only be reworked while it is soft and pliable. Once it begins to get hard, it has reached its final transition and is either useful or goes in the garbage. Think about that for just a second. Regarding our faith, we should always remain soft and pliable because we are a continuing work until we go home. We pray for forgiveness, and we boast in the atonement as an act of love and mercy, but we cannot seem to come to terms with forgiveness of others in our lives.
Red letter alert: “and when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins”(Matt 11:25). How often does someone offend us today? Rhetorical I know, but this generation has coined a whole new term “butt-hurt” because it happens all the time. I don’t hear apologies, or read retractions. Instead, I see trolls everywhere. We love to hurt each other, hold a grudge, and come up with a way to get one up on the perpetrator tomorrow. On a large scale, that’s how wars start. On a small scale, that’s how families break, marriages end and friends become enemies. You cannot simultaneously cling to forgiveness and not forgive others – our faith does not work like this and proves that you don’t understand the faith or Christ at all.
Red letter alert: Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you? Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (Matt 18:21-35)
Learn to be forgiving and flexible. We are all different, come from many backgrounds and upbringings, and we all learn at different speeds – Don’t wait for the other partner to say, “I’m sorry”, step up to the plate and transform the dynamic of the relationship.A Living Sacrifice, A Living Sacrifice: 2
Today’s post is a continuation on yesterday’s topic. If you haven’t read it yet, please take the time to, so that today’s message is seen in context (A Living Sacrifice). Yesterday I covered the topic of Opulence. Fast food lifestyles require sound bites, comic books, and sage wisdom to be instantly digestible, and for that reason, I did my best to stay under a thousand words. There is much more to be said on the topic, but the door has been opened, and we can revisit it in the future. Today, I move on to the subject of hate. Hate is the number two issue on my list of “things that grind my gears”. If by chance you live under a rock, in a “Prepper bunker”, or are just beginning to understand the English language, hate is a term that is synonymous with disgust or a strong aversion to something or someone. If you don’t, and you happen to read the paper, watch the news, or surf the internet, hate is something that we see acted out everyday in many different ways.
In a scriptural sense, hate can be seen in both terms of right and wrong. In fact, one verse that comes to mind immediately is, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9). In the terms of wrong, I offer this: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice”(Eph 4:31). If that was a little too close to home then perhaps this scripture would ease you into the first: “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I (God) hate pride, arrogance, evil behavior, and perverse speech”(Prov 8:13). 1st Peter 2 also gives greater definition to this thought as he defines us as “living stones for the house of God”(v. 5).
How you handle hate is in how you apply and understand these scriptures. In keeping with last night’s theme apply the thought like this:
- There is no person or race greater or better than another – God created us all in His image.
- Yes, all lives matter, but don’t downplay someone else’s feelings because you want to be a jerk. When you are, you are just perpetuating the rage, and anger that is already there.
- There is a right, and a wrong way to express frustration – taking a life isn’t the right way unless it is in self-defense of yourself or family.
- When you express your political affiliation while stating “It’s God’s party” is arrogant, and it may not even be true; Keep in mind God is not a respecter of person or thing (Acts 10:34, Rom 2:11, Jam 2:1-13). Remember Obama and Bush got two terms despite the concern they are the antichrist in some circles.
- Prison reform is a real topic that needs to be discussed. You can’t proclaim Jesus, grace, and all that it entails and still believe that people can’t change. It also isn’t “fair” to forever remove someone’s “God given rights”, when you aren’t God.
- Prison reform is a real topic that needs to be discussed. “lifetime appeals” should stop when the evidence is overwhelming enough to get you capital punishment.
- Stop looking down on people because they are having a hard time. Life isn’t a straight line of perfect, and if you happen to know someone that is always having a hard time, help them. I don’t mean just throw money at them, or give them a meal (those are short term fixes) – find out what is going on, and do your best to be the support they clearly need.
- Stop being a complainer, and start being a doer.
- Hate and evil stem from the same place. Doing wrong and doing nothing to prevent it are the same thing – think about that the next time you say, “I didn’t do anything.”
I don’t write much anymore. It isn’t because I don’t like to – I find it to be cathartic in many ways. Especially when I have an abundance of thoughts dancing around in my mind. The last few days has been filled with those kinds of moments. So please indulge me a little as I lay out one of those threads of thought here. If you aren’t religious, be sure this post will be full of scripture with no apologies on my part. If you are religious, please note that I deliver this scripture as intended with no political slant. In the evangelical community here in America the current cry is, “America, return to God”. Ironically in some shape or fashion, this very relevant statement is followed by the same individuals with a violent or oppressive statement against someone or some issue that they don’t agree with. Let me remind those readers – Christ died for them as well. Let me also remind those readers that Christ came because all the law did was identify our need for the Messiah, not fix our sin problem. Now that the tone is set, I will write to you tonight from the foundation of Romans 12.
Romans, written by the Apostle Paul, is the epistle that most of the doctrine of the Christian church emerges from. Chapter 12 calls on us to be “living sacrifices”, and “not to copy the ways of the world, but to be transformed by Him”(Rom 12:1&2). In so many ways we want to turn the God of scripture into the God of (insert name here). We wish to change, mold, and manipulate scripture to support something we are doing – even if it doesn’t. Paul calls us out. He says, “don’t pretend to love people – do it for real”(Rom 12:9). He says, “Hate what is wrong, and cling to what is right”(Rom 12:10). He says, “when God’s people are in need, be willing to help them” (Rom 12:13). This chapter goes on and on about the things we shouldn’t do in contrast to what we should. In fact, in my home, I refer to this chapter as the “doer chapter”. This is important to recognize because, so often people know what we don’t stand for, but fall short in understanding what we do.
Three things that really “grind my gears”, concerning this (Peter Griffin):
- Unwillingness to forgive
In a twist of irony, it is so easy to find these issues on any given day amongst professed believers in Christ. Things that He is clearly opposed to. For the sake of time, tonight I will tackle the first on my list. This means I will have to write again (twist my arm – please). Opulence is defined as “abundance of wealth” or “Lavishness” (any online dictionary will do). The visual images from many music videos and movies we watch do well to ingrain this picture in our mind. The names Rolex, Bentley, Ferrari, and (Insert Private Island Here) brand its owner with the monicker and a severe case of jealousy from current culture. I am not opposed to wealth. However, I am opposed to how many professing Christians spend theirs. Remember the part about “being in the world, but not of it”? Remember the part about “the love of money being the root of all evil”(1 Tim 6:10)? If you have enough to splurge on something like these things, perhaps the money you have would be better spent in philanthropic pursuits. Set up an education grant, fund a ministry such as a homeless outreach or shelter, fund a class to teach English to some of the immigrants in this country, that you have muttered under your breath about. Now, I turn my thoughts to prosperity ministries. Teaching us that God wants us to be kings amongst men. Benevolence is an impressive quality in a king. If your ministry has a private jet, while another beneficial ministry struggles to stay afloat – you may have missed the point of ministry, and how we are a body with many parts. Despite our many denominational creeds and crests, we are one church, and we need to start acting like it.
In closing (yes, I am almost done), I point you to the closing remarks in Romans 12 –
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.
Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good (Rom 12:17-21). As a species, we have mastered killing, and looking down on those who are worse off that we are, why don’t we try it another way? Changing the world happens in acts of kindness, and true love.
I spend a lot of time with kids. After a while, you begin to study their mannerisms, and if we really pay attention we learn something. Christ in Matthew 18 says, “unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven”. Strong words from the messiah that I believe as a faith we do a great deal of exposition on the issue of sin, but not the latter. It’s almost as adults, like we are afraid of what would happen if we did become kids again. Maybe the issue is we have just forgotten how to be kids. I like to try to visualize what my kids are seeing as they look at things for the first time, and I try to empathize with the emotion they are experiencing because I am trying to relearn what I have either forgotten or replaced with a trained behavior. Tonight – a really shining example presented itself, and I had to write about it. Alina our youngest is an extremely thoughtful and loving child. If she has two cookies and thinks you’re hungry, she will give you both and not take no for an answer. I could preach on that one behavior, but the one that made me stop and listen was at bedtime tonight. We have a ritual of sorts. Dinner, bath, downtime, book, prayer, song and finally lights out. Those last two hours of the night are strictly family time. Don’t get me wrong, there are sometimes circumstances that interrupt the process, and maybe slow it down a bit, but it isn’t often that something isn’t done period. Tonight was one of those rare moments. Sophie, our oldest, hasn’t been feeling well, so Mary took her in for an after-hours pediatrician appointment. That left Alina and I home alone, and we made the most of it. We ate dinner together, and talked specifically about her day. We read a book she picked out, and watched a show just for her – each night these are shared family events. As we prayed and I gave her a kiss, she started to cry. So I asked her what was wrong? She said simply, “mama isn’t here to sing to me”. What if our dependency on Christ was such that we just couldn’t get to bed at night, let alone go to work, without making sure that our scheduled family time with Him was covered? What if we were grieved as much that we didn’t receive a response to prayer, as He is that we hurry through – to say that its done (ritually speaking anyway)? There is a deeper and more intrinsic meaning in Christ’s words here, if we just slow down long enough and really pay attention to what is being said. Man doesn’t live by bread alone.
For a number of years, I have labored under the thought of tracing the steps of Christ after the crucifixion and understanding in the Spirit, what He was trying to instill in those fledgling apostles. I am tormented by the weaknesses in the post-modern church. Instead of being world changers we have let the world change us, weaken us, and infiltrate even the foundational beliefs that make us who we are. We are a religion now in love with the notion of prosperity preaching, mega churches (buildings), and divided by our notions on certain things we believe or don’t believe. Yet at our center is Christ, His purpose, and His instruction. His instruction was to be ONE body, SINGLE minded in the building of HIS kingdom, not OURS. The truth is, if you’re walking His walk, you can’t measure prosperity by the world’s definition, and you shouldn’t define a church by square footage either. Wake up church, unite, and put this body to work.
Week 2 of reflection on Christ is coming to a close, The thought for today is direct from the red letters:
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:1-5 NLT)
Somehow the message of recovering or recovered sinner gets translated into “I don’t do this or that”. Christ is very clear here, as in other parables (yeast/leaven) that sin is sin. There is not one that ranks higher or lower based on the number committed. Good, better, best have no context in this conclusion, either you do or you don’t. That is why daily repentance and reflection is a necessary part of our walk. One step further, as I dig into week 3 – powerless Christians make easy targets, but the power can only come through the Spirit, and He needs a clean, and empty vessel…
It’s Lent, and in seasonal fashion, I do a bit of reflection during this time. Tonight, as I stared at the fire-place, I looked up just a bit to the mantle. In the center, a clock. It does its job and tells us the time every second of every day until it needs new batteries. Around that, my wife has decorated the mantle with pictures of the treasures in our lives. Sometimes, I look at these pictures and can remember the exact day they were taken. Sometimes, I look at these pictures and I get a little sentimental. My girls aren’t grown yet, but they are certainly older than when Mary started collecting these cherished moments in time. Looking a little higher, our framed print of Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. Suddenly, and without warning, The Holy Spirit reminded me of John 13. Christ, and his disciples sharing a last meal together at Passover. It wasn’t the meal that I was reminded of though as much as it was the foot washing that took place and the symbolism therein. The Christ, rises from the meal, removes his robe, and adorns the apron of a servant. The son of God, champion over sin, King of Kings, Emmanuel – worthy above all – removes His robe, and becomes a servant of men. He, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the feet of His followers. The master, serving, not being served. We are privy to some discourse here between Peter and Jesus. Peter in shock, asks ‘are you going to wash my feet?” To which Christ replies, “you do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand.” To which Peter responds (I imagine him as being embarrassed), “you shall never wash my feet”. Christ changes Peter’s tone with His response, and Peter changes his answer (The entire interaction can be found in verses 1-9 of John 13). Shortly after this transaction we get hung up in the betrayal and dinner drama, so we overlook something vital here. “Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (Jn 13:16 NIV). Christ washed each disciples feet, and then asked them to do the same for one another in imitation of Him. Are we willing to lower ourselves to the level of servant? Maybe I should ask this question a different way. When we serve others, are we seeking to be seen serving others and gain glory for it, or are we willing to be on a level playing field with everyone else getting dirt on our hands, touching feet, dressed in rags, if it means elevating the true master? What’s interesting about “The Last Supper” to me is though there is a head and foot to the table, Christ sits at the center. It’s as though the painting is saying, I don’t want you to just teach about me (the brain is in the head), or just do things in my name (feet represent going and doing), but I want your heart, and I want to be at the center and the heart of all you do – exemplifying me, exalting me, so that when they see you, they see me. There is no room in the role of servant for “me”. We’re only given so much time to teach those put in our care as priests both of our flocks and our families how to exemplify Christ. We do the best job we can do, maybe it’s time we let Christ do the best job that He can do through us. Now, I’ll post that here, and go reflect on that hard pill to swallow.