Sunday School Series: A Higher Standard/Calling

9 02 2017

I bet God hears a lot of excuses.  If I could have a telephone wired to his ear, so that I could hear all of the prayer requests and conversations that Jesus’ people had with him, I’m sure I would hear a lot of excuses.  I’m sure I’d hear all of these perfectly valid* and honest reasons* for not being kind.  I’m sure I’d hear a lot of blaming* and I’d hear a lot of absolutely convincing* evidence that the person is doing the best they can.  (*=sarcasm).  I wonder how many of those excuses would be mine.  I wonder how many of those reasons I’ve used to validate myself or make myself feel better about the lack of commitment I’ve had/have today, when it comes to building my relationship with Jesus.

The thing we gotta realize is that excuses don’t cut it.  When we excuse our self out of opportunities to show growth or to show maturity, then we are truly misunderstanding the whole point of Jesus’ coming to earth.  See, prior to his coming, this personal relationship thing?  It didn’t really truly exist.  You worshiped as a corporate body.  God was over there, and we are over here.  When God came to earth, he ripped away the veil and was able to gain entrance into our hearts.  There’s no excuse that is worthy of giving a reason for not loving or for not caring for other people.  By excusing our behaviors or lack of behaviors, we are shying away from the responsibility of our call as a believer.  Excuses are of this world.  They’re not of the kingdom of heaven.  If we continue to make excuses, then we will live a life full of excuses, and not full of obedience and living.

Philippians 2:1-2:  Joy in Unity

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

It is not of this world for people to be in unity and not to be fighting.  In fact, all stories typically have a conflict that go with it.  One of the earliest things that I learned about the church is that you had to go.  Then, I learned why.  You go because of community, and wrapped up in the word community is the word unity.  See it there?  commUNITY.  You go because of the people there, you go to worship God.  You go because christians know that you can’t hope to grow unless you have a community that surrounds you, helping you, and encouraging you.  As a young kid, I disliked church, because it was the dreaded opportunity for me to have to wear a dress!  Gross!  But I learned something as I grew older and I wore pants, that the church is not designed to be an oppressive place, but a place of freedom and joy, a representation of the freedom and joy we have in our relationship with God.  We were not designed to grow and go through this life alone, we were designed for community because the trinity is community.  We were made for community, because it is only when we are in community that we can practice unity.

Paul is clear here, that if we have value in Christ and each other, then we must remain united.  There is no room for selfishness in unity.  We must remain supportive and we must be known by our love for each other.  Unless we do not have value in each other, then we will never rid ourselves of the selfish chains that attempt to hold us to ourselves.

We cannot hope to love each other, and to unite together if we do not understand that community/unity is expected of believers.  We cannot hope to embody the love of God if we do not hold each other to a high standard of unity.

But this comes at a great cost.  Be aware of this.  If I hold unity and community in high regards, then I must hold myself at a secondary regard.  There is no place for selfishness here, but each person submitting themselves for the sake of unity.  We must have all of the same priorities, the same desires, and advance them together for the sake of unity.  I do not think that this means that we lose our own individual personas, but on the contrary, we were all made differently so that we can approach the same goal from different angles.  If the goal is to love people, then each individual does that in their own unique way.

Philippians 2:3-4:  Humble Service

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We are called to a higher way of living, we are called to a new life of love and living together.  We are called of a different way to live.  This type of living is very foreign in our world.  It is so foreign that I almost feel confident in saying that many churches don’t have a hold on this type of living.  Our world teaches us that our selfish ways are the only way to get ahead.  We are supposed to look out only for our spheres of influences, and no one else.  The world teaches us to divide ourselves from each other, to keep arbitrary things like skin color, religion, money, music preferences and a whole other list of things that make us different from each other.  It does not tell us to look beyond our comfort zones and it does not tell us to see beyond our own little world.  It tells us to put our blinders on, and separate ourselves.  That, my friends, is not biblical and it is not loving.  This selfish attitude has unfortunately, permeated our Christian thought too.  We seem more concerned about all of the things that divide us, and more concerned about those that we can keep out of heaven than those that we can let into the fold.  We claim that God is the excluder, but then we ignore the prophecy found in Revelation.  In Revelation, it says that all sorts of people, all kinds of people will be found worshipping God.  Do you remember that?  Excluding people is not the way of the kingdom of God.  But we are often so closed off from everyone except those who exist in our own little worlds.  And that is selfish.

When we put others’ needs before our own comfortableness, we create an excuse for not sharing the gospel, or not living out the gospel.  When we follow scripture, we realize that our own ambitions are worthless, unless they benefit the people of God.  We must seek to erase the divides and love each other like our neighbors and love each other like family.  That’s hard.  Because that means that we have to eliminate the personal bias and prejudices that exist within us.  That means that we have to do the hard heart work.  And if we don’t do that, then we’re keeping ahold of our selfish superiority.  And that’s contrary to this scripture.

Humility isn’t something that you do, but it’s a process of showing people that they are important by decreasing our importance to ourselves.  This is an attitude that also applies to our relationship with God.  If we want to show humility then we gotta submit to God’s plans too.  We gotta realize how much wiser his ways are than ours.  This is something that’s so often talked about in this life, but if we were brutally honest, then I’m sure you could join me and say that surrender isn’t quite so easy.  If I were to truly surrender, then every summer, I would not search for another job, knowing full well that God has called me to the one I have.  But I still search, thinking that the grass is greener than where it is, and honestly, it probably is, but if I were to actually cross pastures, I am certain the grass would not taste as good as being in God’s will and purpose for my life.

Philippians 2:5-11:  An Example Worth Following

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place  and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t have to look hard or far to find an example that is worth following.  We see an example for us clearly lined up for us and laid out clearly.  Quite simply, this is the message of the gospel.

The first instruction that the gospel message has for us here is that we gotta make our attitude just the same as Jesus’ attitude, and then it lists examples of that behaviors.  These specific behaviors are more than guidelines, they’re commands and commitments.  By following and doing them, we discover more of Jesus and his love.  We discover how to love each other by following that example.  If we refuse to follow this example, then we’re not true believers.  We’re not truly convinced of the saving power of the gospel to all people.  It’s one thing to preach the gospel, but believing it is another story.  If we can’t believe that it is our calling and our example, then there’s no reason for us to hold salvation to be true for ourselves.  We demonstrate our belief in this salvation story by allowing it to lead us and be a defining example for us.

Christ has a humble attitude and demeanor.  While Jesus was God, scripture is full of references to where he refers to God as his father.  Let’s take a minute.  To call someone a father is to refer to him as a superior person.  But, scripture says Jesus is equal to God?  How can that be?  Simply put, although Jesus had all honor as a son of God, he, in effect, took his crown off, and placed it on a throne and started working and walking around with beggars in plainclothes.  More than just that, he was selfless in his obedience to his father’s will.  We can see in the garden where he is struggling to accept the ultimate call of his obedience and purpose of life, in choosing to accept death on the cross.  But he made that commitment and he went  through with it, just like he said he would, even though it was difficult to do so.  He could have decided that he didn’t want to die for humanity at the last minute.  He could’ve been in so much pain that he could’ve just called a legion of angels to his rescue while he was on the cross.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t because he knew his purpose in life was to glorify God, and by his choice to be obedient, he would make salvation available to all people.  He accepted that call.  Regardless of how he was feeling.  When we have a humble attitude like Jesus, then we recognize the supreme lordship of God’s will over our lives and over our own desires.  When our plans are submissive to the will of God, then we are liberated from all of the choices that being “in charge” requires of us.  This is very hard.  It is not for the lighthearted.  It is easier said than done.  I’m still working on setting aside myself to the will and ways of God.

Christ followed up his submission with acts of obedience.  His method of obedience was in casting aside his deity, becoming a man and entering this world as a manger, surrounded by cattle and stinky, smelly sheep.  He became a carpenter who was essentially at the mercy of the hospitality of others.  He squatted to poop on the side of the road, probably experience bowel discomfort, battled illnesses and hurt feelings.  Our humility is nothing unless we follow that up in actions.  Christ did.  We cannot be humble and have no actions that back it up.  This is hard too.  This is the higher calling.  Humility means that we don’t get angry when someone hurts us.  We recognize that we too, are imperfect people, and so when people make us more aware of that fact (through hurting us), we find no offense in it.  When we make a mistake, we admit it first, we are not stubborn, but we look out for the best of others, and correct those mistakes.  This is really hard.  Truly hard.  It would be easier to never forgive someone when they hurt them, or refuse to admit that we made a mistake.  But at what cost?  We ruin relationships that way.

The benefits of Christs’ humility benefits us all.  In the same way, others are benefited by our humility.  Because Christ was humble, he is now lifted up and exalted, given a special seat at the right hand of the father.  This is very backwards, but from my experience with the Kingdom of God, it’s pretty all backwards there anyways, so it fits right in!  There, the last are first and the first are last, the humble is exalted and the proud is cast down.  If we want to take ahold of heaven, if we want to enter the gates of glory, then we must follow his example.  We must follow up our faith in actions of service and love.  We must not allow our pursuits or loves to overshadow our love for God and our desire to see him work in our lives.  Because we have his example, we are able to experience grace, and we have benefited from his humility.  In the same way, others benefit when we are humble and we are able to approach them with an attitude of grace and love.


It’s obvious to me that the call of Jesus is a call to a higher standard of living.  It is a very difficult one.  Jesus even said it would be hard.  It’s not easy to look at the face of your enemy and offer the other cheek when he already slapped you.  It’s not easy to volunteer to go the extra mile with someone when they won’t help you the same way.  It’s not easy to allow people to hurt you without striking back or getting defensive.  Simply put, the call of Jesus is not easy and it’s not human and very un-American.  But like I said, it is a higher standard of living.

Because after all, our lives are not about us, are they?

 

Peace and love,
-MB





Creation: A Creative Retelling

31 01 2017

You have molded the heavens with your hands, you ran your fingers to form mountain ridges.  You uplifted the waters to move the waves.  You punched the soil and made valleys.  You scooped up dirt and made hills.  You ran through the land, dragging a stick through the earth and made the rivers.  You moved the ocean into the land and made lakes.  Made mudpies, and they became swamps.  Dried otu the dirt, and deserts were born.  I have this image of God, you, playing all over your creation, to make all of these things happen.  Joyful in your creation, you bounced around like a child.  You transformed your drawings into fish and birds, monkeys and elephants.  Breathed life into those masterpieces, as all sorts of animals began to walk the earth that you created.  They explored and ate off of the trees and plants, drank of your water, and moved with joy.

Then, you made man.  You crafted every vein in his body with purpose.  You sculpted every muscle from the dirt.  You covered it all in skin to protect him.  And you took your breath and kissed man alive.  In wonder, he looked around, not understanding what had just happened, and saw all of the creation moving and growing.  And you proclaimed all of its goodness!

And then you rested.  You watched your created ones get familiar with your creation.  It was your playground and entertainment all in one.  You delighted as man ate your fruit you provided and you were pleased as he named them.  You laughed at his reaction when he saw a platypus for the first time.  You were warmed in your heart as he freed a baby lion from thorns.  Your curiosity was piqued when he saw his helper for the first time.  You had surprised him, not told him that she was going to be made.  He surveyed her beauty and she looked around the same way that he had, when you first breathed life into him.  At night, you sang them to sleep with the birds and grasshoppers singing their song of praise to you.  Your creation was all good, and it was peaceful.  Days went by, and your joy was increased as you got to spend more and more time with them, they led you on tours of your creation, and they told you all about the things that they had learned about what you had made.  You fell in love with them.  You fell in love with this, all of your creation.

Then, came an intruder.  It wasn’t a battle army from foreign land.  It was an old rival that you had banished.  He was once a part of your inner circle, but then he fell from your grace.  He was conniving and jealous of you, wanted to be more than a worshipper of God, he wanted people to worship him because he knew you.  So you banished him from your kingdom, and he took his own kingdom.  He penetrated your garden.  Slithered into the body of something you created.  He slid across the dirt that you made and wrapped himself into your creation.  He thought that he could talk to your beloveds, even though they were yours.  He whispered words of adultery, and they tried to resist at first.  Then they succombed to the pressure.  The enemy said that they would have power unlike that which they had never had before.  But you watched as the connection that you had with them was destroyed.  You couldn’t believe it.

They were frozen, felt it immediately.  The fruit had given them knowledge which they had never had before, but at the price of intimacy with you.  He slithered away before the true effects of his victory were realized by them.  The fruit, they abandoned as they responded in shame.  Your heart was broken as they exprienced blame and anger at each other over what had happened.  They realized they were naked, and needed clothing.  YOu called out their name as you pushed the bushes aside, hoping against hope that they hadn’t really done this thing that you feared they had.  You looked in their eyes, and it had.  Your heart broke.  The one limit that you had given them, they had broken.  Your paradise was infected and the infection lay within them.  There was no way that you could rescue them from this now.  Later, perhaps, but not now.  Not while your heart was breaking and bruised.  Not while they began the journey out of your paradise.

It was all over.  All for nothing.  All of your dreams and all of your efforts were just wastes of time and effort.  It was all for nothing.  You tried something, gave of your heart to create something that would bring your joy, and it was all for nothing.  Wasted.  Futile.  Anger swelled in your heart, they had done wrong.  They must be punished.  Food would no longer grow freely, man had to work at it now.  Her body would no longer live in harmony, as you gave monthly pains to her.  You sealed the garden when they left, now it was plagued in sin, it had been smudged and you had to clean it up.  You would never let someone into your paradise again.  Your anger covered up the fact that you were heartbroken, and they could not see that.  All that they saw was your anger.  Your heart was broken, your creation betrayed you.  In your mercy, you could not destroy them because you loved them.  So you let them live.  But it would never be the same.  Ever again.

You did not give up on them.  One day, they’ll see that.  One day, they’ll see your plan of restoration.  But today is not that day.  Today, you’ll nurse your broken heart.  Today, you’ll cry and ache.  Today, you’ll experience pain.  So that you can give forgiveness.





Sunday School Series:Living a Purpose

16 01 2017

Today’s scripture comes from Jeremiah 1:4-10.  This is actually my Sunday school lesson from yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you.  So go ahead, and get comfy.

When we start talking about purpose of life, then we start thinking about the value of life.  The “Sanctity of Life” Sunday in the American Church is the upcoming Sunday.  We cannot look at the value of a human life without seeing what the purpose behind that life.  Yes, every life is valuable.  Absolutely.  I’m not protesting or disagreeing with that fact.  But before we talk about how valuable life is, we must first examine the purpose of life, the why life exists, what that life is for.

Section 1:  Jeremiah 1:4-5:  “The Word of the Lord came to me:  I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.   I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Now, let’s delve into a little bit of background and context.  Jeremiah was a prophet to the people of God during a 40 year period of great difficulty.  Judah is in peril, and Babylon will eventually overrun them and take the Jews into captivity.  Enter Jeremiah, God spoke to him and he told him several things.

  1.  You have been chosen.  From God to Jeremiah, Jeremiah had been chosen.  He had been chosen before any formation of himself was made in his mother’s womb.  He had been chosen to deliver a message to the people of God, to carry out a purpose of his life.  Thankfully, God is no respecter of persons, and God demonstrates this because he says that he was chosen before the womb.  There was nothing that Jeremiah did or said to earn this, God chose.  In the same way, we are all chosen to live out our purposes.  We have a purpose.  I have a purpose for my life.  You have a purpose for your life.  We all have a purpose.  You were chosen.  If God has moved in you, you have certainly been chosen.  The cool thing is that we all have different purposes in life, different reasons that we are alive and on this earth, but I’m almost certain they all have the same theme:  To serve God.
  2. God has set you apart.  Now to be set apart means to be special or reserved for something specific.  Again, Jeremiah was set apart by of no means of his own, but was set apart only because God chose him and God set him apart.  My grandmother has a special tablecloth that she uses when fancy company is coming, as she calls it.  The other tablecloth is one that we use all the time, but the other one, has a special place and is only used on special occasions.  In that same way, we are all set apart.  We all have been set apart to be different, and to accomplish something in our lives.
  3. God has appointed you.  In Jeremiah’s case, God had appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations.  Always, there is a reminder that our purpose, like Jeremiah’s is not only to the church and the other believers, but to the world at large.  We have a purpose that not only is about serving God and God’s people but impacting the world through our relationships and how we share the story of Jesus.  Have you ever been appointed to do something before?  I have, and it’s an unique experience.  Whomever has appointed you did so because they knew you were the perfect person for the job/task.  Not because you asked for it, and not because you wanted it, but because they knew you’d be the greatest person for that job.

Section 2:  Jeremiah 1:6-8:  “Oh, no Lord, God!  Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.  Then the Lord said to me:  Do not say I am only a youth, for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you.  Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to deliver you.  This is the Lord’s declaration.”

A lot of people like to pick on Jeremiah because he started to throw these excuses to God.  Honestly, that’s not fair.  If we are honest, and if I am honest, I give God a lot of excuses as to why I don’t obey commandments or share my faith.  But if we look at this without the excuses and look at his heart, we discover a few things about Jeremiah.

  1.  Jeremiah understood the gravity of his call.  He understood that to communicate God’s words was an awesome responsibility.  Perhaps because he was young, or he hadn’t spent as much time as his elders, in studying the scriptures and getting to know God, he didn’t feel prepared.  I honestly don’t think he was running from the responsibility because he didn’t want to do it, I honestly think he was aware of how great the responsibility is.  To be his hands, his arms, his feet, his voice….it’s a very large responsibility.  Please, don’t discount the gravity of this call, but let us be aware of the responsibility that we are given!
  2. God is no respecter of persons, he uses whom he wants to use.  I think it’s very interesting that God doesn’t fuss at or chastise Jeremiah for his inadequate feelings of preparation.  Instead, he disagrees with him, and says that his excuse is invalid.  God will use Jeremiah anyways, regardless of how prepared Jeremiah feels.  And we’ll get to more of that later.
  3. If God instructs us to do something, we have no need to fear.  By telling Jeremiah that he was going to use him anyways, he reaffirms the facts he has spoken to Jeremiah previously, that he is chosen, he is set apart and he is appointed.  And he tells him that he will be there for him.  When we are told to go do something, then we have no reason to fear, because in his own words, when God calls us he will be with us to deliver us from all that we face.  It doesn’t matter what we face, the promise is that God will be there for us.  That’s good enough, and that’s all we need to know.  Yes, there may be consequences that we would rather avoid when we obey God, but God is there, and we have nothing to fear.  When we are in God’s presence, then we are empowered to go out with boldness!

Section 3:  Jeremiah 1:9-10:  “Then the Lord reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me:  I have now filled your mouth with My words.  See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.

This passage is a response to Jeremiah’s response to his command.  Not only will God be there for us, but he will do something special for us, something that equips us.  I honestly deeply believe that we will all experience some sort of special moment where we realize that God is there, and he has called us to do something special through his moving and working.  For Jeremiah, it was a touch.

  1.  God will equip us precisely for what he wants to use us for.  Truly, truly, there could be no better way for God to have quieted Jeremiah’s fears, other than the touch of God.  God  reached out of heaven, I believe, and touched Jeremiah’s lips, and doing so, transferred God’s words to Jeremiah.  I truly believe that God does that same reaching for those whom are presented with the task of God.  I believe that every person God is using, just like Jeremiah, God touches in some form or another.  He, in a sense, “anoints” his beloved ones to fulfill his purpose on this earth.  I remember when I was appointed a task by God, and God did give me that touch of inspiration.  And then, I was equipped.  We are merely the vessel for God to move people, mountains, and God is the one providing the words.
  2. God will give us a specific instruction for us to do.  Jeremiah received specific instructions here.  He was to be a prophet to the nations and kingdoms.  Notice it wasn’t just for the ones who already knew God, but it was to all people.  Again, we are not called just to speak to the church and minister to the church, but to all people that God calls us to work with.  The message Jeremiah had for those outside of Judah would sadly be a message of judgement, but it was a message nonetheless.  Remember in the last section, my #2 said we’d get to something later?  Here it is.  We are called, and we have a specific call, and there is no one who can fulfill God’s call for your life than you!  Jeremiah was called at a specific time and given specific instructions, just as you and I are called in the same specific ways.  My call is different from yours.  Right now, I know that my call is to wait on something, and to write these Sunday School lessons for you.  I don’t know why, but your call will also be specific.
  3. When we follow God’s instructions, then our ministry will have an impact. But let me forwarn you, if you’re looking for visible, automatic signs of impact, you’re setting yourself up for failure, because the work of God sometimes takes a very long time to accomplish.  Jeremiah told him that he would uproot and tear down kingdoms, that he would destroy and demolish.  This probably was a prophecy that told us that the temple would be destroyed.  Jeremiah’s words would be a warning.  Jeremiah was also told that his words would also build and plant.  I like to think that he would build up the faith and the presence of God in the community of the people of God, that he would plant seeds of faith in the lives of those that he encountered.  I don’t know if this was reality, or what was meant in this scripture.  But, likewise, our ministry, if effective, will be the way that God sparks life into someone who doesn’t know God.  And sometimes, that’s a long journey.  More often than not, it’s not an immediate change, but a slow-growing process.  But if we do follow those specific instructions, then we can rest assured that it is not for nothing, and it is not fruitless.  Obedience is never fruitless.

Conclusions

First, I hope that you feel encouraged.  I hope that you feel empowered by the words of scripture to have courage and to not be afraid of whatever it is that God has called you to do!  He will not abandon you!  I hope that you feel encouraged to go forth into your ministry that we call life, and seek to fulfill whatever purpose that you have in life.  Are you still searching for your purpose?  That’s okay.  Sometimes that happens.  Instead of being downtrodden about it, here’s what I want you to do, I want you to go to a quiet space, a space where there is no distractions, and I want you to pray a simple prayer, a request, “What is it you would have me to do, Lord?”  The answer may not come immediately, but sit there for a bit.  If it doesn’t work the first day, then repeat it until you do.  Chances, God will tell you what to do.  So do it.  In the meantime, may I encourage you to do a few things?

  1.  Read the word.  Unless we know the scriptures, we have no idea what they’re about.
  2. Pray for understanding of the scriptures and your purpose.
  3. Find a prayer partner about this purpose, and ask them to pray for your purpose.
  4. Live out your purpose.  Don’t ignore your calling!  You were chosen for this purpose.

Peace and Love to you all

MB





Speak Truth

27 12 2016

Special Note:  The following Lauren Daigle song found here is somewhat of an inspiration for this post.  It has been running in repeat mode in my head for a few days.  Although the subject of this post is not spiritual in nature, the inspiration that it comes from indeed has spiritual roots.  I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that, if I am to share the words of my heart today.

We have makeup to cover blemishes.  Instead of initiating a conversation while we wait at the pharmacy, we hide behind our phones.  We put earbuds in our ears while we walk at the gym.  We’d rather sit alone at a table during the lunch rush and eat our lunch in solitude than to sit with another lonely person.  We attack behind the glimmer of our screens of our laptop, and we automatically have issues that make us put up walls that others have to destroy to get to know us.  We grit our teeth where we should be bold, and we water down our thoughts and feelings, so as to not reveal too much.

Sound familiar?

If you’re anything like me, yeah it does.  Honestly, so much of our culture depends on us not being fully ourselves and who we were made to be.  So much of our society hinges on us being mediocre reflections of who we really are.  So much of our society demands that we be polite where we should be angry, passive where we should be involved.

And so many times, we are shamed for our feelings, regardless of what we feel and how we feel.  I remember as a child, my feelings were hurt, and my grandma said “Hush now, Mary Beth, when you cry, your face swells up and you look ugly.  We don’t want that, do we?”  When something upset me, instead of dealing with the emotions, it is more acceptable for me to retreat and hide, than it is to really understand what I’m feeling.

And unfortunately, it is more socially acceptable to be apathetic than it is to be truly honest with what we feel, how we feel and what we think.  When we do take that risk and be honest, if it is not what the other person wants to hear, they’re mad and more often than not, they write you out of their lives, because doing so is easier than actually trying to take to heart what you say.

Are we so lazy that when truth is given to us, we turn and walk away?  Especially when that truth demands that we do something that is hard?  Are we so selfish that we don’t consider the risk that the truth-tellers have to say to us?  Are we so consumed by our own feelings that we devalue others’ feelings?

Truth is sometimes harsh.  I understand that it is often not what people want to hear, but the way I see it is that truth is something that needs to be said, regardless of response.  And when we speak truth to each other, I think we awaken inside each other the awareness of the pitfalls of humanity.  But when we are truthful and we say “Hey, I care more about your personal growth than how you think of me” through the sharing of our truth, we truly show each other LOVE.  We enlighten them and awaken them to being a better person than they are.  Unfortunately, people often are content to stay where they are, and unfortunately, they are able to more easily discount a friendship that is deep than heeding the truth to change.

The reality is, none of us are perfect.  We are more than willing do admit that.  But rarely, if ever, are we willing to do the hard work that is required to become a better person.  We all want to grow, but we are unwilling to do the painful work of growing.  

Growth requires truth.  It requires ourselves and others to be brutally honest with us.  And it requires that we change our way of thinking.  A simple thing such as changing our way of thinking, that’s a very hard thing to do.  But it is possible, if we are brave.  It is possible if we are transparent.  ANd it is possible if we destroy the walls that society tells us we need to put up.  But, we gotta be willing to work at it.

And if we work at it, and we consistently re-train our minds, we just might find that we are capable of being a more loving person.  We are capable of more love, and more grace than we ever thought.  We are more capable of greater things than we are at this present time.

But it all starts with honesty and embracing that honesty, and desiring the best for all.

 

And that’s just really hard.





1. Fruit of Spirit Series: Love

23 04 2016

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

Topic #1 of the Fruits of the Spirit deals with love.  Honestly, I feel like the word Love is used in so many different contexts.  I’m not going to make a comment on the over-use of the word love, but I will try to clearly be specific on the context that I am talking about.  The kind of love that I am talking about today is love that we share between and for people, not the kind of love we have for a cheeseburger, or video games.  But the kind of love that we have for others that we share our lives with, and that we run into each day.

One of the themes in scripture that I have studied the most in discipleship training deals with how the disciple of Jesus is identified through.  I notice several things from scripture and I’d like to share some characteristics of that love:

Characteristics of the Love of God

  1.  God demonstrated love first.   

1 John 4:9-10 says:  “This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  God loved us first.  Before anything else, before anyone else, he loved us first.  That’s it.  There’s no ifs ands or buts about it.  The thing is, we’ve done nothing to merit or earn God’s love.  At all.  Period.  We have nothing to brag about, as being special or unique, and so God loves us.  He loves us because of who he is.  It’s not in his nature to hate anyone, because he is all love.

2.  God’s love does not change based on my emotions. 

This is a theme throughout scripture.  Before we even talk about Jesus and who Jesus is and the person of Jesus, we have to look at the overarching themes and stories of love.

One of my favorite stories in all of scripture is the story found in Hosea.  If you want to look at a love story, look at Hosea.  It’s a little overwhelming, particularly when you examine it in the light of God’s love for us, which it, from my understanding, is a very accurate reflection of God’s love for us, and was intended to be an allegory.  Very shortly and briefly, the story of Hosea is this:  Hosea is called to be a prophet, and he is instructed, by God, to marry a prostitute.  He is obedient and marries Hagar.  They’ve been together for a bit, and she runs back to her old life, and becomes pregnant.  She does that several times, and each time, Hosea goes back and takes her back.

If I am honest, my commitment to God isn’t as steady as it could be.  But instead, it rocks and rolls similarly to the ocean tides.  Sometimes, it’s really rocky and windy due to a storm, and other times, it’s just cycling over and over again.  But you know what?  God’s commitment to me does not waver, it does not increase or decrease based on my response to God’s love.  It’s not about how committed I am to God, because really, I don’t have a choice.  God has already committed himself to me, and he shows this in Hosea 2:19:  “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.”

This is regardless of my response.  Regardless of when I run or how I run.  It’s regardless of how I feel.  From that, I have determined that my love for others, it must be regardless of how I feel.  It must be regardless of whether my feelings are hurt or not, it must be regardless of anything.  My ultimate goal has to be to love people regardless of their response.  Sometimes, people can’t accept love, because of all of the ways they’ve been hurt in the past or how they preconceive that love is….but the thing is, I must love on God’s definition.  And God’s definition is not like humanly definition.  God’s definition is already about commitment, regardless of what I do.  I’ve done nothing to deserve or earn it, but it is my joy to enjoy it, as a free gift.  And that should also be our task, to show others that same type of love, regardless of who they are, their response or what they have done to us.

 

Therefore…..

  1.  If God is love, then we are to love others too.

It’s easier to hate people.  It honestly is.  It’s easy for me to write someone off instead of getting to know them.  It’s easier for me to arbitrarily just decide that I don’t like someone or that I don’t want to share my life with someone, simply because of some random thing that I have decided makes a person unworthy of love.  If I am honest, humanly honest, I have written off people in the past, because I decided that one aspect of them didn’t appeal to me.  I decided that they were not good enough or something.  Thankfully, I have learned the errors of my ways, and am maturing enough to finally realize that everyone has value and is worthy of being loved.  But it takes something for you to be able to recognize that it’s not up to us to decide who gets to be loved.  It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy, because all people are loved.  And therefore, all people are worthy of being loved.  Here’s some convicting words:  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  -1 John 4:7-8.

That thought always sobers me.  When we refuse to love someone, or we decide that someone is not worthy of being loved, we are not of God, and we are not a believer.  That means, in previous moments where I have decided that I don’t want to love others, it means that I haven’t been of God.  And anytime that I used my own reasons to justify why I am not going to love others, then I am not being who I am supposed to be, and I am not loving like I am supposed to.  I am not being obedient like I am supposed to be, and I am not showing love like I am commanded to.

The fact is, the failure to love marks us as nothing but ignorant of the commandments and the person of God.  When I allow politics, my personal beliefs, preferences, or what have you, to discolor my viewpoint of a person, or to prevent me from loving a person, or prevent me from making a person feel like they are loved, then I am in the wrong.  I am in the entire wrong mind frame, and I am in the wrong.

It’s hard to accept that.  It’s hard to be honest with myself and it’s hard for me to call myself out on my wrongness, particularly when I think that I have a good enough of an excuse to justify my hatred or dis-love of others.  I think the reason that the writer of 1 John was so severe, was because he recognizes the weight of love, and the impact and power of love.  See, God endured Calvary for the weight of love.  And so, we should also reflect that weight.  We should also be mindful of the saving power of love, because it is love that allowed us to be redeemed and ransomed.

2.  God’s love makes us sincere in love.

It’s easy to say that we love someone, but it’s much harder to actually do it.  It’s easy to do when the people we love, love us back.  But when they don’t meet our “standards?”  When they don’t meet our expectations?  But what if they hurt us?  What if they upset us?  What if they do something wrong?

The problem with that assumption, is that we are assuming that love has something to do with us and our emotional state of being.  But that is a lie.  See, love should be shown regardless of what we feel or our personal state of being.

How can you do that?  Honestly, it’s very difficult.  But that’s part of sanctification (the process of growing closer with God), because the more that I am close to God, the more that I can and am able to become more like God.  And the more I become like God, the more that I can love people like God does.  Scripture says:  “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” -1 Peter 1:22

We can only love, like God does, when we have been growing, and when we know a thing or two about God’s love.  Then, we can obey the truth, and have sincere love for others.  Sincerity is something that is rare in our world today, because it’s hard to take people at anything other than face value, or to imagine that they don’t have ulterior motives.  The people who follow God and have a relationship with God, should love sincerely, without reserve.  When we fail to do so, then we don’t accurately reflect the love of God as it truly is and reflect the experience of God’s love for us.


But, the question remains:  What is sincere love?

This is a very stereotypical answer, but let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13.  “If I speak in the tongues  of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

To answer that, very quickly, I want to pull out three more additional points about love:

  • If I am spiritual at all, but I do not love, then my works are worth nothing, and I am not reflecting the grace and love that has ransomed me.
  • Love is a very tall order. It moves beyond my own mere human definition, and into something else, something motivated by more than just selfish desires.
  • As I grow, my love will mature and change. And if it doesn’t, then I don’t know love at all.

 

Conclusions

The first thing that I’ve realized through studying these passages, is that I have a lot of ways to grow in love.  But, thank God, how I have grown!  It’s always enlightening and encouraging to see where you have grown and matured!  It’s always a burst of gratitude when I see where God has moved and changed me, how he has changed me.

And if love of God changes me and allows me to mature, how also, could my love for others help to grow others?  If love from God helps me to grow, then it could also help others to grow, and how I could be a beacon of hope and love for others, especially those who need it.

I don’t get to decide and define who God loves, and I don’t get to decide and define who is worthy of my love, and I don’t get to limit love at all.

And the cool thing about love?  “Against such, there is no law.”





Unity and Love

22 12 2015

It’s no secret that I am someone who both loves and despises the church from the both double-edged sword.  It’s no secret that I have been hurt by remarks that those people of the church have made.  It’s also no secret that I surround myself with people who also have been hurt by statements that the church has made.  It’s no secret that the church has personally metaphorically stabbed and wounded those that I love.  I see images like this…..

Westboro

and this….

CSA 2

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and it is upsetting.  (Just for the record, I did a public google image search and found these images.)  I see so much hate spewing out of the american church, and I see so much violence being advocated for, and it is hurtful.  I hear and see my friends struggle to be loving and accepting of these awful words.  I talk to people who have been force-fed the doctrine of Christianity by people who are not living a relationship with Christ.  I watch videos and hear things on the news of people proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ but in the same breath, condemning those who don’t look like or act like they do.

For so long, I’v64e1a24e6e9dedca1656322d1b0fd754e used this image, to bring to mind the core tenants of the faith, to justify my feeling of superiority to those who aren’t able to follow this command.  This image portrays the message that Jesus gave, when he gave the command to love thy neighbor.  And the modern American Christian will give all of these objections as reasons not to love “thy neighbor.”  For so long, it seems like we like to define who our neighbor is.  I imagine many times, that Jesus wants to look at us like this:

56868885And the reality is, that he is truly qualified to do so.

I get so angry with people when they don’t follow this simple command that Jesus gave us, and I get so angry when they try to make up all of these excuses for not loving someone, instead of just following the command, because that implies two things:

  1.  That it is perfectly valid that people have to meet certain standards in order to receive grace.
  2. We have the power to decide who is worthy of being loved.

Neither of which is true.

When I entered into a relationship with God, he didn’t require me to change.  He didn’t give me a three point improvement plan.  He didn’t tell me about the ways that my life would have to be gotten in order.  He simply said “I accept you as you are.”  He called to me, wanting a relationship with me, and I responded likewise.  It is through consistent contact and communication, that he makes me more like him.  The things he has changed are not typical.  The glaringly obvious things that you would think he would work on…he hasn’t.  This isn’t to say that he won’t…but he just hasn’t yet.  In that same sense, that is the way in which I should love people.  If I am to embody the love of God, then I love people as they are, and accept them as best as I can, not demanding that they change.  Not pouting and screaming til the tears come down, until someone finally molds to my will and desires.  If I am to be the love of God, the hands and feet and arms and ears of God on this earth, then I am to do just that.  Serve wholeheartedly, go where needed, embrace in love and listen without reserve.  That’s it.  I don’t get to decide who I do and don’t serve.  I don’t get to decide where I do and don’t go.  I don’t get to decide who I do and don’t hug.  I don’t get to decide whose words are worth listening to and whose words aren’t worth listening to.  That decision is not up to me.

But where does that leave me with the American church, as a whole?  It’s very obvious.  My job is to love.  Even when I don’t believe that those beliefs are right, my job is to love.  I am to serve those, even when I disagree with them, I am to serve without reserve, as unto the Lord.  My job is to love.  I am to go, where and when I am needed, no matter what, and be present where I am placed, even if the person I am being present for, has made derogatory remarks that place my friends in a category.  I am to hug, and spread love, and make sure that all I encounter know of the love of God through me, even when I don’t want to do so.  I am to listen, without reserve, and allow their opinion’s value, as an individual to override any of my own beliefs.  If I want to see the American church changed, then I have to be changed myself.  I have to cast aside my self-righteous opinion of being better than the above pictures, and I have to love them.  My job is not to change them but to love them.

And that goes along with the second lie that we try to convince ourselves which is true, the lie that we have the decision to make and decide who is worthy of being loved.  The problem is, it’s not our job.  It’s not my job to decide who I am supposed to love.  I’m supposed to love everybody, no conditions.  I am supposed to love my gay friend who hates when her family speaks words from the Bible at her, condemning her to hell.  I am supposed to love the family that speaks those words at her.  I am supposed to love both the victim and the oppressor.  Does that mean that I allow the oppressor to continue to be oppressing?  No.  That means that I love the victim enough to make the oppressor think of their actions.  Does that mean that I allow the victim to lash out at their oppressor?  No, that means I encourage the victim to step outside of their frame of perspective and into the oppressor, and seek for understanding.

But where does that leave me in the church?  Where does that leave me when I see the majority not conforming to my perspective?  maxresdefault

There’s an old chorus that my church sings quite often, and the words are pictured to the right.  The thing is, we all have the creepy uncle.  We all have the aunt we’d rather not talk about.  We all have the black sheep of our family, and I happen to mostly be the weird one in mine.  But the thing about family is, I cannot change the fact that I have the biological characteristics of my father’s demeanor.  I cannot change that I walk like my grandfather.  I cannot change that my body is shaped like my mother’s   I cannot change that I have blonde hair like her.  Fair skin like my grandfather.  I cannot eliminate the impact that my family has had upon the shaping of who I am.  And, I cannot just simply ignore them, I don’t get to choose who my family is.

And if the church of God is my family.  If all Christians are my brothers and sisters, then even Westboro Baptist Church is my brother and sister.  Even the fearmongerers who hate Obama, they’re my brother and sister.  I can’t decide that they have not received Grace.  I can’t decide that they’re not going to heaven.  That’s not my job.  That’s God’s job.  My job is to love them, and to do so in the best way that I know how.  Does this mean that I unite with them?  Yes.  Does it mean that I agree with them?  No.

What does this mean?

I’ve been revealed that unity is more important than my self-righteous opinions.  Unity is more important than my pride.  Holding back my tongue for the sake of unity is more important than sounding my beliefs like a big brass cymbal.

Instead of making sure that I am heard, and that my opinion is out there, right now, my instruction is to wait, love and expect God to change what needs to be changed.  And lately?  It’s been me more than others.

 





Theatres and Hospitals: What is Church?

22 11 2015

What is church?  Is it a building?  Is it God?  Is it the people?  Is it a theatre?  Is it a hospital?

Is it a place where we play our perfect parts?  Where we paint on the make-up of righteousness?  Is it a place where we always say that everything is fine?  Is it a place where we fit in?  The place where we recite the lines and liturgy, like familiar scripts?  Where we’ve memorized by heart the prayers and the songs?  The catchphrases?  Talk to an actor, and they will remind you that once you know the lines by heart and repeat them often enough, they can utter the words with fake emotion and conditioned responses.  At first, the words meant something, but meaning has faded with time.  When they leave the theatre, the life-changing event that the audience has just witnessed, the spectacle doesn’t change them.  It doesn’t affect them.  If it’s not special,it’s just another performances, that was just another audience, and this is just another regular moment.  The performance winds down, and the audience leaves.  The actors put away their costumes and props.  The janitor begins pushing a broom around for the next time.  The lights are turned off and the doors are locked.  And without the context, it’s simply another building that is left alone.

Is the church a hospital?  Hospitals hold sick people.  Hospitals hold the sick and the wounded.  The hurting and the rejected.  They hold people on their deathbead and people just coming out into the world.  They hold accidents and attempts of suicide.  They hold lovers and they hold drug users.  They are both a safe haven and a place where people despise to be.  People don’t go to a hospital for companionship or community.  People go to a hospital out of necessity, out of need.  They don’t go there because they want to, but they go because they have a need.    People go because they need a doctor, and there’s where the doctor is.  Hospitals are also sterile, impersonal spaces for people to worry and wonder.  Once that healing is a reality, we tend to try to stay as far away from hospitals as we can.  We don’t darken the doorway until we are in need again.  In this incredibly consumer-driven world, we’ve driven our churches into impersonal spaces.  We have places where we’re so scheduled and performancy, that God couldn’t speak up if he wanted to.  Our churches tend to be a sterile, impersonal space where we raise our hands, paint smiles on our faces, and then leave the building.  We don’t realize that we are all so very sick.  We don’t need the hospital, we need a doctor, one who doesn’t care for those who are well, but those who are sick and in need.  Unfortunately, the doctor hangs in the front of the building, naked and mutilated, and we don’t recognize the suffering, we don’t consider the suffering that had to take place so that we could eat our communion wafers and pass the peace.  Instead of attending the doctor, we attend the hospital.  What good is an image of the doctor to the sick?  An image doesn’t have healing powers or properties.  THe worst of it all is not thate have the image of the doctor there, but htat we attend the hospitals, pretending to be well.  We attend the congregation, pretending to have no ills, pretending that we are not wrestling with our doubts and insecurities.  We take the pills of doctrine without questions or wrestling.  We don’t even know the difference between medicine or poison.  Churches are not a hospital, because we don’t use it so.

The reality is that our lives suck, a lot of the times.  If we are truly honest with each other, passing the peace is more like a chance for us to bear our hearts, our pains and our victories.  Instead of “just fine” when asked if our week went well, we have the opportunity to say “well, this week was really frustrating.”  There are times where we are hurting and almost clinging to a lifejacket in a hurricane.  And there are times that we are pretty happy and content.  More often than not, we’re just in the middle, floating along.  Meandering between the mountaintops and the valleys.  Most of our days are ordinary lives, and for some reason, the idea that we live ordinary life is too boring or common to think about and less important for us to talk about.

The people that hung out with Jesus, they lived ordinary lives.  Sometimes I just forget to remember that they were people, that the words on the pages and the names in the book are real people.  I like to imagine that these people were super special and super-spiritual.  But in reality, they were just like me.  They hungered, they had to take a poop.  Jesus had a headache at some point I’m sure.  I’m definitely sure someone had diarrhea.  And Jesus knew it all.  That’s the cool fact, he already knew it all, and he just chose them anyways.  He chose to walk around with these imperfect people, with these imperfections.

Yet, I attend a place where I don’t feel like I can be that imperfect person.  Because we’ve made our churches into theatres and hospitals without a doctor.  We’ve painted the happy, perfect blessed faces upon us, and an image of the doctor satistfies us.  And we leave the hospital unhealed, exhausted by the performance and unchanged by the spectacle.  If we want to be changed, and if we want our performances to be something real, then we’ve got to let the doctor appear.  How do we do that?  How do we stop acting and start being?  It’s actually quite simple.

I’m honestly not sure.  I think the answer lies somewhere in between taking off our masks and being openly honest with each other, and encountering the person of God in an intimate way.  I think the answer lies in stopping attending church, and starting to be church.  Church shows up when a friend is hurting, it’s present when you’re watching TV with a group of people.  Church is when you’re breaking bread together.  Church is space to be mad at each other, or at your beliefs.  Church is a place to question it’s a place to wonder.  It’s not a place that we feel guilty, but a place where we feel loved.  But it’s also a place we give.  We give of our time, of our love and our wisdom.  Church shows up in AA meetings, at gay pride parades, in soup kitchens.  Church shows up in game nights and movie theatres.  Church shows up in coffee places, where friends are neighbors and neighbors share a common interest in coffee.  Church is when we share our lives, our frustrations.  Church is when we bring a casserole to the hope of a dearly departed.

When we start to share our ordinary lives, and we wipe off the make up, we realize that we start to have church in us.  Then, we start to radically meet the doctor in the most normal way possible.  We read the scriptures and they provoke us, they love us and they grow us.  We read the words of the beloved one and they inspire us.  We hunger and crave moments of intimacy with the one who created us.  And the more and more we experience the intense connection with our creator, the more and more are we able to love people through the mundane and the horrible, the good and the valley.  The more we are able to handle honesty.  The more we are able to be nurses to assist the doctor.  The more we are ale to love people, and praise people on, encourage them.  The more we are open and honest, maybe we find the more people feel comfortable to be so open and honest with  us too.  I think this is church.