For This, Lord, We Repent

A prayer for myself and fellow Christians.

In as much as we have allowed, expected and even required a select paid few to participate in spiritual duties and to share Your story, we have believed You do not allow equal access to Your throne. For this, Lord, we repent.

You also are like living stones, and God is using you to build a spiritual house. You are to serve God in this house as holy priests, offering him spiritual sacrifices that he will accept because of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 ERV

In as much as we have lived a life burdened by fear, guilt and obligation and called it “following You”, we have not believed Your message of freedom. For this, Lord, we repent.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11: 28-30 MSG

In as much as we have required others to understand countless points of doctrine in the precise fashion that we do prior to allowing them to be baptized, we have believed You require spiritual growth absent of Your power. For this, Lord, we repent.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. Acts 16:31-33 CEB

In as much as we seek to occupy the high places man has created and feel pride in knowing others who do, we have set aside the order of Your kingdom.  For this, Lord, we repent.

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. James 4:10 NET

The fear of people becomes a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord will be set on high. Proverbs 29: 25 NET

In as much as we have closed our eyes to the boundary-crossing of those with prestige and tenure against the weak, preferring to allow some to suffer rather than risk offending the powerful, we have forsaken Your Spirit. For this, Lord, we repent.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8 ESV

In as much as we have excluded ourselves from mingling with others who believe differently than we do or are of a different socioeconomic status, we have been prideful and robbed others of the blessings You wished for us to share.  For this, Lord, we repent.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV

In as much as we have believed we are a special people, morally superior to others, we have supposed You play favorites. For this, Lord, we repent.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3: 23-25 ESV

In as much as we present Your grace as being available to the outsider, but remove it from the reach of those who have confessed Your name, we deny the reality of being human. For this, Lord, we repent.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  Romans 7: 18-20,  24, 25 ESV

In as much as we have used baptismal status or desires for such as a manipulative force to change behavior in others, we have twisted the gospel, placing the onus of sanctification on ourselves. For this, Lord, we repent.

God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him.  Philippians 2:13 CEV

In as much as we have taught that You have a single plan for our lives which we must search for, find and accomplish in order to live a life acceptable to You, we have believed You to be a controlling micro-manager and inept at bringing good out of all circumstances. For this, Lord, we repent.

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 CEB

In as much as we have claimed that following You leads to a life void of troubles, we have caused doubt in the lives of those facing trials. For this, Lord, we repent.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 ESV

In as much as we have asserted to know the unspoken intentions or thought-processes of another and deemed the person righteous or evil, we have removed You from the throne of judgment. For this, Lord, we repent.

The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel.  As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. “I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life. John 5: 20-24 CEB

In as much as we have believed we have no moral struggle or downfall in common with an alcoholic, prostitute or murderer, we have fed our self-delusions. For this, Lord, we repent.

So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. Romans 3:9 CEB

In as much as we have clung to our pride over authenticity, we have denied ourselves of the healing You want to provide. For this, Lord, we repent.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 ESV

In as much as we have mistook leadership for power rather than service, we have adopted an earthly world view. For this, Lord, we repent.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14,15 NIV

In as much as we have come to think that we can and absolutely must do it right, get it right, believe it right, understand it right in order to please You, we have imagined You to be exacting. For this, Lord, we repent.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Psalm 51:16,17 ESV

 

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In as much as we have followed You for what we want from You, we have devalued Your pursuit of our hearts. For this, Lord, we repent.

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7 ESV

In as much as we have refused to open the painful places of our hearts and allow You to do the hard work of healing, we have chosen bondage over freedom. For this, Lord, we repent.

So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1,2 CEB

In as much as we have closed the door to a progression in spiritual understanding, we have denied Your desire to further reveal Your character. For this, Lord, we repent.

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.  Acts 2:17 CEB

In as much as we have been unable to extend compassion toward others, we have not trusted Your compassion toward us. For this, Lord, we repent.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left. Lamentations 3: 22-24 MSG

In as much as we have responded to Your commands by saying “All that You have said, we will do”, we have trusted in our promises over Your promises. For this, Lord, we repent.

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 CEB

In as much as we have belittled others in conversation or in our thoughts so that we could comparatively lift ourselves up, we have rejected the value You have already placed on us. For this, Lord, we repent.

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”  Romans 9:25,26 ESV

In as much as we have accentuated the weight of guilt in another’s life, thinking we were doing the work of God, we have misunderstood Your mission. For this, Lord, we repent.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17 ESV

In as much as we have tried to control others, we have considered You incapable of guiding them on their own journey. For this, Lord, we repent.

If you stray to the right or the left, you will hear a word that comes from behind you: “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 CEB

In as much as we have felt obligated to give of our time, money or energy while holding resentment in our hearts for our sacrifice, we have been striving to impress You. For this, Lord, we repent.

Each one of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You should not give if it makes you unhappy or if you feel forced to give. God loves those who are happy to give. 2 Corinthians 9:7 ERV

In as much as we have doubted our own salvation, we have judged You impotent to save. For this, Lord, we repent.

So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Hebrews 7:25 NET

In as much as we have nurtured an atmosphere of fear in regards to the end of time, we have rejected Your message of peace and Your self-sacrificing love. For this, Lord, we repent.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10: 10, 11, 14, 15 NKJV

In as much as we have monitored and corrected the explicatives spoken by others while living a Christian life void of Your transformational power, we have taken Your name in vain. For this, Lord, we repent.

But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things. Galatians 5: 22, 23 ERV

In as much as we have thought You were more concerned with the form of our worship than the condition of our hearts, we have adopted paganism and set up our home in Babylon. For this, Lord, we repent.

“I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me. Hosea 6:6 TLB

In as much as we have made religion about behavior modification and doctrinal beliefs and not about knowing and trusting You, we have committed idolatry. For this, Lord, we repent.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39,40 ESV

In as much as we have sought after a leader worthy to follow rather than seeking after You, we have had other gods. For this, Lord, we repent.

Christ gave you a special gift. You still have this gift in you. So you don’t need anyone to teach you. The gift he gave you teaches you about everything. It is a true gift, not a false one. So continue to live in Christ, as his gift taught you. 1 John 2:27 ERV

In as much as I myself have believed and acted on these very things, I have strayed from Your way. For this, Lord, I repent.

 

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The Father and His Son

Long ago and far away there lived a Father and his Son who had a relationship that is rare on the face of this earth. We’ll call them Father and Son. We don’t know a lot about the details of their relationship, but there are some things we know for certain. Although both grown men, the two could often be found enjoying each other’s company.  Son had an artistic mind and found pleasure in creating things – a real master craftsman. And Father took equal pleasure in seeing what Son made.

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One day tragedy struck and darling Son suffered a severe injury while rescuing Father’s dog that had been caught in a well. Death appeared imminent for Son. Father felt as if a knife had cut through his own soul watching Son suffer so.  He drew closer to Son’s bedside and tenderly took his hand, giving the comfort only a loving father can.  The power of their love enabled Son to pull through the darkness and, in the end, fully recover. They could again be found side-by-side, loving on the pup that had nearly been the end of it all.

There was no room for one-upmanship, manipulation or control in their relationship and no sense of fear or dread, no concern of inadequacy.  The relationship was built on trust, mutual respect and personal freedom. The result was sheer enjoyment and delightful companionship for both.  It was the envy of all who saw it.

Amazingly, this is real. This is the quality of relationship described in the Bible between God the Father and Son before time began. Close, warm, tender, playful, creative, pleasurable. There was a third party to this relationship. His name is the Holy Spirit. We don’t know as much about Him, but He was a part of the giving and receiving of benevolent love.

More amazingly, you and I are invited to walk into the relationship with God. Listen to the prayer of Jesus in John 17:

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.

It was Jesus’ desire that we experience the same quality of love relationship with each other and with His Father as they have been experiencing for eons past. God is not content to simply spare us. He wants to save us out of everything painful and into a beautiful friendship.

You are not alone. You don’t need to perform to be acceptable or accepted. You are loved deeply and tenderly. You don’t have to wait until heaven to experience this. He wants to start growing into this relationship with you right now. Do you trust Him? Will you believe He’s inviting you, just as you are, into the inner circle?

Jesus opened the door of trust in our hearts. Now walk through it.

He’s the hero. And it’s great news!

See Isa 42:1, 6; Pro 8:30, 31; Zech 13:7; John 1:18; Mat 3:17; John 8:29; John 17:24; and John 10:30. 

 

 

 

Of Ice-Cream, Mountains and the Gospel

“How was your trip to the mountains?” my friend asked.

“Oh, AMAZING! I had a chocolate twist cone. It was the best!”  I replied.

Wait. What? What is this nonsense conversation we walked in to? My friend asks about a trip to the mountains and I tell him about ice-cream. Nonsensical! But what if I told you there is a Maverick gas station on the way to the mountains that sells ice-cream?  Does the conversation seem reasonable now?

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I don’t think it does. While it’s true there is a Maverick on the way to the mountains and it really does have tasty, inexpensive ice-cream that I’ve indulged in many times, the ice-cream is not the highlight of the trip. The highlight of the trip is, of course, experiences that can be found only in the mountains. The sound of the wind in the pines. The brilliance of the Aspen leaves. The ice-cold river with slippery rocks in the bed.  Any of the things exclusive to the mountains ~ that’s what makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  Ice-cream is easily available in lots of places. The mountains may enhance my ice-cream experience, but it’s still not the ice-cream that makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  It’s the mountains.

Yet how often do we do this with the gospel? We frequently say we’re talking about the gospel, but then focus on things that are available elsewhere. Moral lessons and teachings. Self-improvement. Social justice. Values. Civil behavior. These things certainly are in the Bible and a part of the faith journey.  But they aren’t exclusive to a faith in God and they aren’t the point of the gospel or Christianity. They are simply things that we experience as we make our way to the Point. They are important only in light of the gospel. It’s nonsensical to converse about those things void of the gospel itself.

Central to the gospel message is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the redemption He freely offers. That message contains rest and peace for the soul not available any where else. And that message sweetens all the other things we encounter along the way.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

That’s the Gospel.

Dear Christian Porn User

Dear Christian Porn User,

I know what you’ve been up to. I’ve seen the browser history, the credit card bills. I’ve found that stash of magazines you thought you hid in the basement. I’ve heard your stories when you thought I wasn’t listening. You may think you’re being clever, but you’re not.

You’ve probably said you think there’s nothing wrong with it – that no one is harmed by it. But your attempts to hide it and your defensiveness when caught betray that your heart knows differently. We do not hide that which is right and just and pure.

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I know you go to church every week and have called yourself a Christian all your life, but don’t fool yourself with your title. Do not let who you think you have to be blind you to who you really are. And listen up, because I’ve got some things to say to you!

Jesus loves you.  

Yes, I know. I know you’re a hypocrite. God knows, too. And He’s crazy about you – right now! He loves you. It’s not conditional. He doesn’t ask that you change your ways before you accept His love. In fact, accepting His love is the only way to change your heart.

The gospel is for you.

You’ve often heard about how we need to tell the unchurched about Jesus. But, the good news is, the gospel is for you, too. While you were an enemy of God, Christ died for you. He took on the wages of sin for you. On the cross, He  freely chose to die, forsaken by His Father and without hope for Himself, to give you the right to a new life.

You are valuable.

The cross tells of your value. The God of the universe – the one who can create stars or tell mountains to rise up or to fall down – He offered His Son to bear the price of your sin and mine. Do not reject or scorn the value He places on having a relationship with you.

Now, leave it!

Walk away from it. You know the fleeting moments of pleasure are a high price to pay for the dysfunction it’s brought to your home and the chaos in your heart and soul. So leave it. You’re tired of the scramble for more and feeling like it controls you. So leave it. But you actually can’t, can you? You’ve tried and it pulls you back every time. Perfect! Yes, perfect! You are in the perfect spot to drop your pride, stop the charade and proclaim your utter helplessness.

Call out to Jesus.

I know you are in the church, but call out to Him from the broken place you find yourself. His mercies are new every morning. Now is the time for salvation. Allow His love to soothe and heal those hurts of your past that have been so influential in where you find yourself today.

Pray these words:

Lord God, I acknowledge that I am unable to control my desires. You know the brokenness of my life. I need you, Lord. I am a sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for displaying Your love and might on the cross through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You overcame the power of sin on my behalf! Sin no longer has to reign over me. Jesus, I want my old life to die with You and Your risen life to live in me. Holy Spirit, remind me of this love and new life throughout my day. Thank You for loving me even while I am a sinner. You are a compassionate God, full of mercy. In Jesus name, Amen.

I urge you to find two or three Christ-followers who will not condemn you, but will walk with you in humility and uplift the cross of Christ to you daily. In His strength is your freedom. In His love is your healing. You cannot do this alone.

Now, to you other Christians still reading because you wanted to see what cursings might be called upon the sinning pornography users, I hope you realize that a good many things could be the topic of this blog. Exchange pornography for pride, workaholism, gossip, greed or self-exaltation. It’s not as easy to count the victims of those acts, but they are destroying others and ourselves just the same. They are a violation of the law of love – out of harmony with God.  My message to you is the same.

People” don’t need Jesus.

WE need Jesus.

Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.

The Gospel Lens ~ An Evolution of Theories

Over the years I’ve had some defining moments that have prompted me to put my beliefs into words. The first was about this time six years ago. My late husband was on hospice. He and I, and our kids, signed a family pledge. It went like this: “Because Jesus is coming again to take His friends to Heaven, we will, therefore, dedicate our lives to Him.”  I had a considerably longer version written out, but the challenge of writing it in calligraphy on a 12 X 16″ sheet of paper inspired me to distill it down to as few words as possible. So when push came to shove, the essence of my beliefs landed on, “Jesus has something I want, so I’m willing to give Him something back in order to get it.” I will always treasure that piece of paper with all of our signatures on it, but I find my gospel view… well… interesting.

About two years ago I had occasion to give a synopsis of my life view again. This time it read: “Because of all Jesus has done for me, I am a bond servant to Him.”  The essence of this statement sounds more like “Jesus has done something for me… and I will work at paying Him back.”  Again… interesting.

But I’ve come to some stark realities in the more recent past. These realizations are based on words that I’ve known for as long as I can remember being.

  • Jesus/ God doesn’t need my work. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can command the rocks to cry out. All things are at His disposal. (Ps 50:7-10, Luke 19:40)
  • He doesn’t want my work. He’s not interested in any performance.  “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Ps 51:16,17 MSG)
  • I can’t give Him any good works of my own.  Every good and perfect gift is from Him. (James 1:17)  Anything I do on my own is as filthy as menstrual rags. (Is 64:6) That’s disgusting.

The 4 Gs

So, if that’s what the gospel isn’t, then what is it? I like this brief summary based on “The Gospel Primer” by Caesar Kalinowski (2013 Missio Publishing):

God is Great ~ so I don’t have to be in control. I can rest of my worries.

God is Glorious ~ so I don’t have to fear others. God is important, or “weighty”. In fact, He is the “weightiest” person in my life.  I can let go of seeking the approval of others.

God is Good ~ so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction. People and things eventually fail to deeply satisfy my soul. Jesus is the better fulfillment of my every need.

God is Gracious ~ so I don’t have to prove myself to myself, to others, to God. While I was yet a sinner, God sent His son Jesus to die in my place. I don’t need to earn His love. He proclaims me worthy.

God is the hero.

He graciously gives. I gratefully receive.

Because of the gospel, I am free.

My burden is light.

That’s Good News!

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Wrapping it up in Pretty Paper

The young man was angry. His life had not gone well. He had been cheated of so much that he truly needed as a child. And now as a young adult his life was spiraling out of control. Disappointed and dissatisfied, he began hanging out at the bar on his way home from his minimum-wage job, first occasionally, then more frequently and for longer periods of time. Soon his bar-mates were his closest friends. He was funny there. They liked him.  He found acceptance, but more than that, he found relief. He could forget about his troubles for as long as he was there. Reality was left at the door.

A friend outside of the bar began to notice the change in him – his lack of personal hygiene, his weight gain, and his lack of concern for being able to provide for himself. His friend was concerned and confronted him one day. His friend suggested that the young man get on a community sports team, find more uplifting friends, and get out of the bar rut. The young man saw the value in his friend’s words and did just that. He committed himself as much to the sports as he had to the bar.  With every smack of the ball he attached some of his anger. He became physically fit and attractive. Soon he was the best ball player in town. He was a hero on the field. He was valued for his skills. His team liked him. He found acceptance, but more than that, he found relief. He could forget about his troubles for as long as he was playing. Reality was left off the field.

“The function of an addiction is to remove intolerable reality.” (Pia Mellody)  We, in the human race, find some creative ways to package our addictions in order to make us feel better about ourselves and our addictions. One interesting addiction I’ve come across recently is being called “Orthorexia”.  Wikipedia has this to say about it:

Orthorexia nervosa[pronunciation?] (also known as orthorexia) is a proposed eating disorder or mental disorder[1] characterized by an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.[2][3] The term orthorexia derives from the Greekορθο- (ortho, “right” or “correct”), and όρεξις (orexis, “appetite”), literally meaning ‘correct appetite’, but in practice meaning ‘correct diet’.

That’s quite a paradigm shift. The person who looks and acts the healthiest may in all actuality be very sick.

The point of this blog post is not to discourage fitness or healthy eating. They have their place. However, I find it good to remind myself that anything can become my god. Anything can become my idol. And anything that distracts me from getting to know Jesus personally on a daily basis isn’t worth keeping.  C.S. Lewis points out in the Screwtape Letters that the devil doesn’t really mind how he captures our attention away from God. If being preoccupied with church service is what distracts you or me from a relationship, that’s just fine with him. If I spend my time studying about and fretting over the clever ploys satan may use to trap me rather than spending my time learning about who God is and how He’s already freed me ~ the devil doesn’t mind. It all works the same. In fact, sometimes the “good” distractions are doubly effective.

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The pretty wrapping paper is deceiving. 

My Two Cents

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I disagree. 

I admire Rick Warren’s work and appreciate his ministry more than the typical person on the street. But this particular quote seems surprisingly off the mark to me.  Perhaps I’m taking the concept further than it was intended, or perhaps the saying is more of a sound bite than a reliable dogma. Here’s how it looks played out to the extreme:

God teaches you to forgive by causing your spouse to have an affair. Really?

God teaches you patience by causing your date to be an hour late. Really?

God teaches you tolerance by causing your best friend to emotionally abuse you. Really?

The application of that principle in specific situations where I decide specifically what God is trying to teach is painting a really ugly picture of God. Does God orchestrate tragedy in my life because I’m a bad person and need to learn something? Or does the rain fall on the good and the bad?

Let’s see how it looks when the logic is reversed.

If I was already more forgiving, nothing would happen in my life that would require me to forgive.  Really?

If I was already more patient, I would never have to wait. Really?

If I was already more loving, there would be no unlovely people around me. Really?

Do the things that happen to me and around me occur because of me? Looking at it this way give me a whole bunch of control. It is self-centered. It encourages perfectionism in my thinking because, if I believe the logic, then I must also believe that if I was just a better person I would be able to control the circumstances and people around me. When unlovely things continue to happen to and around me, the natural conclusion is that I am a bad person – I didn’t get my act together well enough. This then produces self-loathing, anger, frustration, guilt and shame. It is a codependent way of thinking that enmeshes me with the people in my life.

Here’s what I think:

God teaches us to love by loving us. 

There are unlovely people in my life because I live in a war zone where there is a battle going on between good and evil. I am not in control of the other people in my life. I am simply traveling beside them and have experiences as a result of that shared journey. Sometimes I am the unlovely person. Sometimes other people who I love are the unlovely people. And always God is so amazingly good that He is able to create beauty where the enemy planned destruction.

Making Music

The young lady walked into the college music hall surrounded by silence. It was after-hours. She slipped onto the piano bench and quickly opened her sheet music. Perhaps she could play for a while in the big hall before supper was finished and others arrived to use the practice rooms.  The song started softly but grew to a crescendo, the notes reverberating off the walls and filling the space. So consumed was she in her passion of playing that she didn’t see him arrive. His heart swelled with the music.  He also loved to play and knew the passion and dedication required to play as she was. He immediately liked that about her and found himself drawn not just to the music, but to her as well.

Nervous but determined he approached the bench watching her fingers dance on the keys. The young lady, unaware of any change in her surroundings, finished the song.  Her eyes closed in peaceful bliss as the notes drifted away and silence once again surrounded her.  Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a single person clapping right behind her. Simultaneously her body and mind spun.How had he gotten in here? How long had he been standing there? How dare he interrupt her solitude like that! Are his eyes really that blue? No – Wait! How dare he? … He has a sweet smile! … But he could have at least knocked or something before intruding into my space like that.” 

The young man’s smile broadened as he sensed her reluctant pleasure at the attention she was receiving. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “That was beautiful!” He extended his hand in greeting.  “My name is Ted, by the way.”

She regained her composure and clasped his out-stretched hand for the obligatory shake. “Oh, thanks! My name’s Sandy. I’m in the music program here at the college. Someday I’d like to perform on stage.”

“Then I’m sure you will one day.  You are very talented,” Ted replied in support.  When Sandy blushed but didn’t speak, Ted continued on. “I love to play piano as well. Would you be interested in trying a duet sometime?”  She agreed with a nod. That sounded … interesting.

The two began to meet in the music hall every week. The hall had two grand pianos facing each other – a perfect arrangement for playing duets. Their timing, as their conversation, was a bit awkward at first. But their shared passion and dedication to the music drove them on. After a few weeks they found the experience so enjoyable they decided that waiting a whole week between duets was much too long and agreed to meet in the middle of the week as well. And then soon they were sitting at the piano benches at every possible opportunity they had.

A year of making music together quickly slipped by. Then one day Sandy arrived at the hall to find Ted sitting at her piano bench. She tilted her head in an unspoken question. His eyes danced to the rhythm of the song beating in his heart. He rose to his feet as she approached. He was nervous, but yet not. He couldn’t imagine the rest of his life without her. As she arrived in front of him, he dropped to one knee and extended his hand to her once again. But this time his hand was not empty. It held a little box. As she dared take her eyes off of his to look at the box, he opened it wide. The diamond sparkled in the lights of the music hall. “Will you marry me, Sandy? I love you and want to make music with you for the rest of my life!” Her squeal of absolute delight made a reply unnecessary but she spoke it, sang it, and then shouted it for all to hear over and over, “Yes!”

Now, I don’t know if that’s how it really happened. I didn’t ask. But here’s what I was told when I asked an elderly lady how she was adjusting to her move to a retirement home. “Well, there certainly are a lot of changes to get used to. But probably the hardest change has been the piano. My husband and I have been married 60 years, but we’ve been playing piano duets for 62 years. Our new place only has room for one baby grand and we’re having to learn to play on the same piano.”

She found it to be an adjustment. I found it to be sweetly romantic that they were so dedicated to each other as to continue making music together after 62 years. I could imagine them at the bench, their fingers now intertwining on the keys, sometimes awkward, but ever learning and growing, laughing and loving.

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There is a love story in the Bible of which we know very little. Perhaps it was too intimate to reveal in detail. Perhaps it wasn’t shared because we each need to learn our own duet with God rather than focusing on how someone else did it. What we know about the relationship goes like this:

When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him. (Genesis 5: 21-24 NLT)

What a beautiful duet that must have been! What a perfect rhythm they must have developed – a oneness of mind and spirit.

During this season when there is special attention and focus on romantic love, let us also daily remember and grow in our romance with our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  I challenge you to a year of making music with God. Even if you don’t think you know how to play your part, show up. He’ll be there. The Master Musician is anxiously waiting.