Friday, February 26, 2021

God's Hands

In the grand scheme of things, does it matter if God has hands? Does it matter if He used a literal finger to write the Ten Commandments onto tablets? Does it matter if He simply dictated them and Moses actually did the writing?

Probably not. To be honest with you, I can't really think of a significant theological difference that such a thing makes. 

What I'm concerned about is the bigger problem here. Namely, what I'm talking about is a group of 'educated' theologians who take it upon themselves to step in at the very second that someone, a lay person, might think they are finally starting to grasp this whole "God-thing" and tell them no, they are wrong. 

What you think about God is wrong. What you think you're finally understanding about God is wrong. Not only is it wrong, it's heretical. It's sinful. It's so wrong and backwards that what you think you're understanding about God and is drawing you near to Him is actually pushing you away and you're so naive and uneducated and foolish that you don't even see it yet. 

We have persons around us who love to do this sort of thing in all walks of life. They just sit there, ready to pounce the very moment you think you're finally breaking a chain free. At the very second you start to understand something, when it starts to finally make sense to you enough that you can wrap something around it, they step in to tell you not only why you're wrong, but why you're further away than you think. 

We simply can't tolerate this when it comes to God, particularly when it comes to things that do not make a theological difference at all. So what if you're sitting in your house and it makes sense to you that God would write something with a hand? That's how we write, isn't it? When we call into question whether or not God had actual, physical hands, we call into question what it means to 'write.' And when we call that into question, we call into question what it means to 'speak' because we know that God spoke the words to Moses that He wrote on the tablets. And on and on and on it goes. And now, what are we supposed to think about anything at all, if we should not be allowed to think, even for a second, that God had hands? 

So then, to say that these things don't make a theological difference is really only a half-truth. When we call them into question, they make a big theological difference. If you take away a man's most basic understanding of something, you make him question his understanding of everything. If you cannot know what it means to say that 'God wrote,' when writing is such a common human experience, then how can you ever possibly understand anything about 'God' at all? If you got the most basic thing wrong, what else are you getting wrong? 

That's why we can't do this. That's why we can't allow this. We cannot let 'experts' tell us how wrong we're getting it on the little things that don't matter. We can't let them step in at the moment that we start to understand and tell us we're mistaken. Just let us understand 'God wrote,' knowing that none of us knows what the actual form of this God is but that to have a conception, a mental conception, of His presence is far better than to not have one. 

Because our God, this God we love? He has promised that He is knowable. He has promised that He is present and near us and that we can recognize and understand Him. He has gone out of His way throughout His entire story to reveal Himself. And if a little word like 'hand' or 'finger' makes this God more knowable to someone, makes this God nearer to someone, gives someone what they need to let their hearts wrap around this God, then let it be. If it's not accurate or not historically accurate or not specifically revealed or known, who cares? If it draws someone into the knowable-ness of God and encourages them to encounter more of Him, lets them make sense of more of Him, then on something so theologically null as this, let it be. 

(Especially, we must add, because you don't know, either. You don't know that God doesn't have hands like a human has hands. You're just afraid that someone might form an image of Him in their heads and let their worship go astray. But what if...what if they form an image of Him in their hearts and draw into Him? Just let it be.)

That's why it matters, I guess. At least, to me. Because I don't ever want to discourage someone from thinking that God is knowable. For He is. He's told us He is, and He's shown us He is. If He has a hand or doesn't have a hand or has a hand with seventeen fingers on it, I don't care. If thinking of God's hand helps you to believe that you can understand and know this God, then hold onto that. It's fine. No matter what anyone says. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Hand of God

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Bible that I'm reading this year and how sometimes, I think it goes overboard in some of its explanations (for example, footnoting that they have not used the word 'staff' but instead, have used 'walking stick' so as not to confuse the English reader who might think 'staff' means roster of employed individuals). 

Well, as I get deeper into the Torah, this Bible is at it again. You remember those passages when the Bible talks about God writing the Ten Commandments on the tablets Himself? Not once, but twice, Moses hauls tablets up the mountain and God writes His commands on them 'with His own hand.' That's what the Bible stays. 

What the footnotes say is, "Obviously, God does not have an actual hand and He does not do any actual writing. This is clearly just an anthropomorphism (ascribing human characteristics to something that is not human), so the reader should not think that God actually wrote anything or that God actually has a hand (or a finger)." 

Okay, but...

Why not?

Why can't God have a hand? Or a finger? Why can't He actually write things that we can see? A dis-embodied hand wrote on the wall in the book of Daniel, and everyone saw it. Are we to really believe that God couldn't write His Word on a few tablets for His beloved people? 

Remember, this is a God who walked with His people in the Garden of Eden. In a form that they could see and recognize as Him. This is a God who met with Moses face-to-face. Moses saw something different of God than the people saw in the smoke and the cloud and heard in the thunder. This is a God who has been ever-present with His people. He is a God who has a human form and a spirit form and a third form, which we're talking about here, that isn't clearly identified anywhere, but it's the form that walked in the Garden and met with Moses and so, there's got to be something to it. 

Remember, this is a God who created the heavens and the earth just by speaking the word, but when it came to man, He formed him. Hands-on. Or...whatever God has in place of what we might call hands. But why couldn't it be hands? 

Remember, we are a people created in His image. And while we know that means so much more than mere physical form and we often like to talk about how it means we have the heart of God or the soul of Him or the mind of Him or whatever, why couldn't there be at least some measure of physical similarity? 

Here's the thing: I get it. The Bible says we aren't supposed to make any images of our God, and so if we keep the form of God a mystery, then we can't be tempted to make any images of Him. I mean, just look at what we've done with our images of Jesus - which aren't, we have to confess, even historically accurate. Our light-skinned Jesus was probably not the guy who healed blind men in Galilee. But that doesn't stop us from pretending that He is. 

So of course, we want to keep from making idols. But at what cost? We keep forcing ourselves into this disembodied God who is so vastly unrecognizable to our human eyes that we have...nothing? Nothing at all? We say that He writes a message to His people - and we've seen Him do it - but we're not allowed to say that writing involves a hand? Because God can't have hands. God can't have a form, even though He's chosen two forms for Himself and revealed them to us plainly. His third form, His main form, His Father form, is supposed to be somehow different?

I believe God wants us to know Him. I believe He has always lived in relationship with His people. I believe He has a form that His people have known and have seen, though only perhaps a handful over the course of human history. I believe we know these things for certain because He told us so Himself

So all of this over-abundant caution about being so careful to say that when we say God writes, that doesn't mean He has a's absurd. It's essentially claiming that God wants to be unknowable somehow, and that's not who our God is. That's not who He's said He is, and that's not who He's shown Himself to be. 

Does that mean God has hands? Or fingers? I honestly don't know. I haven't seen Him in that form. Not face-to-face.

But does that mean He doesn't? I think that's a stretch too far in the other direction. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

An Invitation

So what's the deal? Why does God tell Moses to strike the rock when it's not a necessary action? When we know that God could bring water out of the rock without Moses's theatrical performance, why put a man in a position to fail? Particularly when something so big as the Promised Land is on the line?

The answer is as it always has been with our God: it's just not His style to do it any other way. 

Our God has always been a God who desires relationship with us, who wants to partner with us for His glory and our fullness. There's not one story in the whole Bible where God needed a man for anything, but nor do we find a Bible full of stories of God acting on His own, outside of relationship with His people. 

Noah didn't have to build an ark. If God wanted to save Noah from the flood, He could have done it just by speaking the word. God could have lifted two of every animal, and Noah's family, to His storehouses in the heavens if He'd wanted to, but that wouldn't have helped His relationship with His people. 

The Israelites didn't have to fight a single peoples in the Promised Land. Not one. There's a story where God confuses an enemy army and makes them kill themselves as they stood in battle array against Israel, without one of God's people ever having to pick up a sword. (Although, we should say, that God made His people actually go to the battlefield.) God could have destroyed the nations without His people, but that wouldn't have helped His relationship with His people. 

Jesus didn't need disciples. He was fully capable of the work of ministry all on His own. But He chose twelve men anyway and let them be eyewitnesses to the wonders of the Incarnation. Why? Because it helped establish the relationship between God and His people. 

God has always been a God who invites us along for the journey, not because He needs us but because He wants us. All throughout the wilderness journey, throughout the entire story that we know as the Exodus, starting all the way back in Egypt, God has been using Moses. Not because He needs to, but because He wants to. 

And it's on the basis of that invitation - God's invitation to play a part in His cosmic drama - that God sends Moses to strike the rock. It's God saying to Moses, one more time, Hey, I'm going to do something neat. Do you want to be part of it?

That's why it's so important that God brought water out of that rock anyway, even after Moses failed. Because if we knew that our human failures had the ability to prevent God from doing the good He desires to do, who among us would ever accept His invitation? 

It is precisely because God doesn't need us, but rather, wants us, that so many of us choose to go with Him. 

God didn't set Moses up to fail, although He had to have known that at some point, Moses's flesh was going to get in the way. God set Moses up to be part of something bigger than himself. ...Moses failed all on his own. 

And while it may seem harsh that on account of one failure, particularly after so many successes, Moses never got to enter the Promised Land, the Lord did have mercy on him and let him see it. The Lord continued to affirm all the things Moses had gotten right, all the adventures they'd had together. All the face-to-face chats on the mountain. God continued to remind Moses of the very special relationship that they shared and just how much the Lord loves this man. Moses didn't get the Promised Land; he didn't have the whole world. But he had the Lord, and the Lord had him. 

And I think that if you asked Moses all over again if he wanted the chance to be part of what God was doing, he'd say without hesitation - absolutely. If God asked Moses to walk over and strike another rock, I think he'd do it. Wholeheartedly. 

Because it's not a trap. 

It's an invitation. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

What Do We Make of Moses?

Now, as we talk about the water flowing from the rock at Meribah, we have to admit: God didn't need Moses to strike the rock at all. 

God being God, He could have just let water come flowing out of the rock. He didn't need to make a production of it. He didn't need to make a scene. He could have, in His goodness, heard His people grumbling, had compassion on them for their thirst, and sent water pouring out of that rock to satisfy them. Moses is completely unnecessary in this whole equation. 

The question then arises: Was God just testing Moses, then? Was God just using this as an opportunity to see what Moses would do?

It's a troubling question, as it gets us into all kinds of sticky theology. 

Does God give us completely unnecessary opportunities to fail? Does God set us up with the possibility to sin? Perhaps even more difficult - if God knows everything that's going to happen, if He can judge our hearts and know what we're going to do in any given situation, then did God want Moses to fail at Meribah? Was God conspiring to keep Moses out of the Promised Land? 

Like I said, it gets us into all kinds of sticky theology. 

And this sticky theology leads us into great difficulty as we try to live out our own faith. It's hard for us to trust a God who might be setting us up to fail. It's hard for us to put our hope in a God who leads a man all the way to the very edge of the Promised Land, just to keep him out of it. How can we do anything with confident assurance if we are not certain that it's not just some kind of cruel test that God has for us?

And how can we continue to love a God who we believe has, or even might, set us up to fail?

That's why it's so important to understand what really happened at Meribah. That's why we have to look closely at the story and figure out what's really going on here. It's why we have to take time to step away for just a second from the whole Moses angle and remember that no matter what Moses did and what happened next, God brought water out of that rock for the people.

God was true to His promises. God was faithful to His people. God was good, and as we wrestle with what that means in the example of Moses in this story, we cannot forget that. Rather, it has to be the truth that grounds all of our other inquiry. 

In a story in which God is good, in which God shows Himself as good and affirms Himself as good, what are we supposed to make of Moses? 

The answer, tomorrow. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

A Cool Drink of Water

We're standing with Moses at Meribah, where the people of Israel are (again) grumbling against their God. They are thirsty, and it's been a long time since they have seen any water worth drinking. They're ready (again) to go back to Egypt, to a land of slavery, since it's clear to them that God brought them out in this wilderness to dehydrate them to death. (We humans are so dramatic, aren't we?) 

So God tells Moses to gather the people around a rock, in order that He might demonstrate His power, and provision, among them. He tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff so that water will come flowing out of it, which Moses does. But Moses, who has himself been the subject of much of Israel's grumbling to this point, has a very human moment and doesn't execute this action exactly as God has instructed him. Instead of striking the rock once, he strikes it twice; instead of declaring God's provision and goodness, he betrays his own grumbling spirit and projects it on God, right there in front of the people. 

It is the sin that will ultimately cost Moses his chance to live in the Promised Land. 

But let's not miss this:

Water still flows from the rock.

Moses may not do exactly what he's supposed to do in the way that God wants him to do it, but God keeps up His end of the deal. Moses strikes the rock in front of the people, and God brings forth living water to satisfy their thirst.

This is important, particularly for those of us who are prone to take on a heavy responsibility for God's work in our world. It's easy for us to think that if we mess up, we're going to ruin everything that God is doing. If we sin, the whole world is going to miss out on His goodness. Or if God is angry with us, we take away His goodness for everyone. 

We're afraid that if we don't get it exactly right, God isn't going to be God any more. God isn't going to love other persons because we were too flawed to let Him love them through us. God isn't going to do good in the world because we were too broken to do good the right way. And on and on it goes until the fear of 'messing everything up' becomes paralyzing and many of us don't even try to do anything for God, or His people, at all any more. We go back to Moses in Egypt - oh, please, Lord, not me. Don't send me. I'm not qualified. This can only end badly, Lord. 

Or we get wrapped up in asking a thousand questions about what God wants us to do and how He wants us to do it and what exactly it's supposed to look like and how best to.... Just picture Moses trying to figure out exactly how to strike the rock. Where should the people stand? Where should I stand? Should I strike the rock sideways, or with the end of my staff? Should I make a wide swing of it and really make it a dramatic production, or is it enough to simply touch the staff to the rock? Which end of the staff should I be holding? In my right hand or left hand? 

It sounds silly, but we do it all the time. Don't we? We want to make sure we're getting everything right, doing everything in just exactly the way that God wants us to do it. 

Yet, still, there's a chance that our human nature gets in the way, and it doesn't go off like we planned. Or like He planned. 

But what this story tells us is that...that's okay. Yes, Moses still had to deal with his own flesh and his own shortcomings, but Israel didn't suffer because Moses didn't get it right. God still brought water out of the rock to satisfy their thirst. God still brought water out of the rock, even for Moses

Perhaps, then, we should take comfort in knowing that God is still God, even when we are human. Even when we fail or when we don't get things quite right or when our flesh gets in the way or whatever, God is still God. God still delivers on His promises. God is still good to His people. God still loves His people. God still loves even us. 

If God says He's bringing water out of the rock, then He's bringing water out of the rock. And not even we can mess that up. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Water from the Rock

As Israel sojourned through the wilderness, they came to a place where they were no longer satisfied with the provision of the Lord and His promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. (Okay, to be fair, they came to a lot of places like that.) 

The people of God grumble against Him, as they've become accustomed to doing by this point, and Moses takes a good bit of the grumbling himself. He, too, goes to God, complaining. He doesn't understand why God gave him a people like this one and what he's supposed to do now in order to respond to them. The people are losing faith in God, yes, but they are also losing faith in Moses. And Moses is losing faith in the people. 

This whole wilderness thing is falling apart, God. What now?

God tells Moses to lead the people to this certain rock that is in the midst of the place where they are now grumbling, and then He tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff and water will come rushing out of it, enough water for the people to drink and to satisfy their thirst. 

So Moses does just that...sort of. He gathers the people around the rock and asks them what their deal is, what their major malfunction is that the Lord God who led them miraculously out of Egypt, crossed them over the Red Sea, drowned their enemies, and has provided sustenance for them along their journey isn't enough for them any more. He asks them what they want him to do about their grumbling, how long it will take them to stop being a grumbling people. He's fed up, and it shows. 

And then, Moses strikes the rock with his staff - not once, but twice - and water comes gushing out of it, enough water for the people to drink and to satisfy their thirst. 

And as it does, the Lord expresses His displeasure with Moses. He doesn't like how this whole thing went down, even though it is...kinda...what the Lord Himself told Moses to do. Yet because this didn't go the way He wanted it to go, God is now upset with Moses, and Aaron, and declares that neither one of them will ever enter the Promised Land that they've had their sights on for so long. Neither one of them will set foot on this land flowing with milk and honey. They're done. 

It's hard for us in the limits of language and in the version of the story that we're given to understand exactly what went wrong here. What, exactly, was the sin Moses committed at the rock? We have a few guesses, but nothing concrete really to go on. Still, we spend a lot of our time trying to figure out what it was. And preach it. And use it as an object lesson. And talk about Meribah. And, of course, talk about the implications of Living Water flowing from a Rock. 

There's a lot in this story. But the thing I want to start with is...(stay tuned).  

Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Bit Troubling

As we talk about what it means to understand that what God says to one person (or one people) in one place and time may not be a word He has given to all of us forever - and may not even be the word that He has given to that person/people forever - we have to address the elephant in the room:

How are we supposed to deal with a God who is ready to lead us into battle and five minutes later, will not go with us?

How are we supposed to accept a faith that, in the blink of an eye, can go from "I can't lose" to "I can't win"?

It's troubling. It's perhaps one of the most troubling things that we encounter in our faith, this notion God wishy-washy? Does God change His mind? How are we supposed to know what God is feeling in this particular moment? How can we ever act if God could require something completely different from us in our next breath? The questions can be paralyzing.

Add to that the Scriptures that we have that assure us that God doesn't change His mind like a human and that He is the same yesterday and today and forever and...what are we supposed to do with this?

Too many Christians have simply accepted the notion that God is unpredictable. And that when we talk about God's consistency, what we mean is that God is consistently unpredictable. We have accepted the idea that because God is all-powerful and all-mighty and all-everything else, He can do whatever He wants, and we are supposed to just feel blessed to be along for the ride, however bumpy it might be. Oh, how sweet it is to trust in Jesus. Oh, how good it is to be doing...whatever He's doing. 

But it doesn't have to be this defeating. Not by a long shot. 

What we have to understand about this story, about this idea that the very same God who was set to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land with assured victory now seals their defeat, is that it wasn't God who changed His mind. In fact, if you read the Scriptures, you see plainly that as soon as God says that it's not happening now, He affirms that it is, in fact, still happening later. 

It was Israel who changed their mind about the timing of it.

It was Israel who followed God (sort of) through the wilderness, all the way to the edge of the Promised Land. It was Israel who decided they could not follow God into Canaan. It was Israel who decided they were too afraid. It was Israel who grumbled and groaned and wished they would die in the wilderness.

God simply gave them what they asked for. Without, we must acknowledge, giving up on what He planned. 

So then, the question becomes not, what do we do with a God who changes His mind? but rather, what happens when we change our minds about God? Is it God who has changed, or is it us? When we stand on the edge of all that God promises us, is our greatest fear that God will not go with us...or is it that we are not prepared to go with God? 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

In God's Timing

Yesterday, we introduced the story of the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land, when their own spies convinced them that although the land was good, they were not in any position at all to take it for themselves. They grumbled against the Lord, who gave them exactly what they asked for - they would die in the wilderness - and then reaffirmed His promise for future generations, inspiring them to go boldly into an unapproved battle and be soundly defeated. 

Caught up? Okay. 

Here's why this story is so important for us today: because we are not fundamentally different than the Israelites. 

One of the temptations that we have as Christians is to read the Bible and to believe that every word that God ever said is the same word that God is saying to us right now. In fact, this is one of the greatest errors that we make in biblical interpretation, and it can lead us very far astray.

For example, take the story of the rich young ruler. This young man comes to Jesus to brag about how good and righteous he is, but Jesus sees right through him and challenges him to do the one thing that would be most difficult in all the world for him to do - sell everything, give the profits to the poor, and then come, follow Me.

We read this story, and we think that what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, He is saying to all of us. We come up with all kinds of theology about how we're not supposed to have pleasures in this world, about how we should not own any possessions at all, about how we have to give up everything that we hold dear and give it to those less fortunate than us. We are always looking to empty our hands...and our shelves...and our lives. But these were not the words of Jesus to everyone; they were the words of Jesus to one man. 

At no point in this story does Jesus turn His attention to the crowd and declare, "Actually, you know, this is good advice for all of you." Of all of the men and women gathered around Him, there is only one that Jesus tells to sell everything, give the profits to the poor, and follow Him. Just one. Dozens, if not hundreds, of others are standing there, but Jesus isn't speaking to them. 

What makes us think He is speaking to us?

(As an aside, if you want to know the moral of this particular story, it's that we have to be willing to break free from whatever it is that binds us away from Jesus. In the rich young ruler's case, it was his wealth/status/money, but that might not be the case for us. The story, then, is not a pronouncement against wealth/status/money, but an indictment of our relationship to the things that keep us self-righteous and prevent us from following Jesus.) 

But then, we wonder how it is that our lives get so messed up, why they seem so off-track. Why we keep running head-first into defeat, just like the Israelites. And it's because we're guilty of the same sin that they are - we have accepted a word of the Lord outside of His timing for it. We have taken something that He said in a temporal sense and made it eternal. We have not listened to what He is doing now but instead, have figured He's just doing now what He's been doing all along and that the formula for faith is the same as it has always been. 

When the truth is that when God tells you to turn around, He's no longer going with you into the fight. 

When God speaks to one man, He may not be speaking to you, too. 

We have to be careful about this. We have to be mindful about the way in which we read Scripture, or else we fall into this trap. We come to an understanding where every single word that God ever spoke was a word He was speaking into our lives, without context. Without relationship. Without timing. And that's just not the case. 

Part of being a people of a God who is right here with us is our being right here with Him. And that means that we have to pay attention not just to what He says, but when He says it. Not just what He's said, but what He is saying now. 

Lest we run off into battle and find ourselves soundly defeated. 

There is, of course, something else troubling about all of this. We will look at that tomorrow. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

With God's Favor

As Israel stood (for the first time) on the edge of the Promised Land, she sent twelve spies to see what kind of good promises her God had made to her. They were to scout out the land, bring back its fruit, and report on the glory that the people of God were about to enter. 

With bated breath, the Israelites waited forty days for their faithful entourage to return, and return they did with fresh grapes and promises of milk and honey. The land, they said, was indeed very good. 

The only problem is: there are other peoples living there. Settled peoples. Peoples with the resources to fight hard. And, oh yeah, giants

So the people get scared, decide that maybe they're not up to the challenge, and they start to grumble against God. They take a vote of 'no confidence' in their Lord and start to wonder to themselves if they wouldn't have been better off staying slaves in Egypt or, at the very least, dying in this wilderness where at least the elements would kill them instead of the sword. 

In His graciousness, God decides to give them exactly what they want - He will let them die in this wilderness. In fact, He will make them die in this wilderness. This entire generation will get exactly what they asked for, and they will wander until the elements of age and time eat away at them and they all pass away (save for Caleb and Joshua, the two faithful spies who were confident in God's goodness). Then, and only then, He will lead their children into the land that they were too afraid to take. 

Immediately after God grants them their wish, immediately after He tells them that they will die in this wilderness and not have to worry about the land, He reaffirms His promise about what the land will be like...for their children. He reaffirms to them what it will be like to have the abundance of this land, to live as a settled people in peace, to be confident of the goodness of their God. 

This affirmation of His promises stirs something in Israel that she seems to have forgotten, and all of a sudden, she's ready to take the land that just five minutes ago, she was sure she could never have. The men who were ready to turn back toward Egypt instead turn toward Canaan, and they press forward with swords drawn, even though Moses tells them not to do that. Even though Moses tells them the moment has passed. Even though Moses tells them that God's plan has changed. 

God will not go with them now. Five minutes ago, He would have, but not any more. In the blink of an eye, everything has changed and this has gone from a battle they could not lose to one that they cannot win. 

And of course, just as they didn't listen to God, they don't listen to Moses and are soundly defeated, just as they feared they would be before they were confident they couldn't be. 

This story, found beginning in Numbers 14, has a couple of very profound insights for us as a people of God, particularly as a people of God's promise (which we know best through His Word). So we're going to take a couple of days and talk about some of that. Stay tuned.  

Monday, February 15, 2021

Friends of God

So then, if 1 John 3 tells us that we are now children of God but we do not know what we will become, then what is it that could tickle our imaginations that might be greater than being children of God? 

As I have wrestled with this passage, what I have come up with is simply this: that we would be friends of God. 

To many, that might seem like a step in the opposite direction, like it's going from someone who lives in the household with all the rights of an heir to someone who pops over from time to time for pizza and movies and maybe a game night. But hear me out on this, because that was my initial thought, too. 

But what I've come to realize is that as we grow up, as we get older and mature into ourselves and come into the life that God is calling us into, our relationship with our earthly parents changes. (At least, in the healthiest of situations, it does; it's supposed to.) When we are young, we require their discipline and guidance. So many of the things in our childhood are given to us, including our opportunities. But literally everything, from fresh diapers to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to clean laundry. Our parents do so much for us when we are young, in an attempt to guide us and to teach us and to shape us toward the glory that we were intended to live (hopefully, for God, but I realize that not everyone grows up in a Christian household; I didn't). 

Then as we grow up and show ourselves faithful and demonstrate all the things that have been instilled in us for so long, something changes. No longer do our parents go shopping for us; they go shopping with us. No longer do they make our dinner; they invite us to dinner. No longer do they set rules and regulations, but they are present with advice and a listening ear. Over time, our relationship changes whereby we are still parents and children, with all the things that come along with those roles, but we also become friends - we enjoy the company of one another. It's a blessing to hang out and do things together. We relish the time that we have. 

And this, I think, is greater than just being children. 

I think this is what Jesus had in mind when He said He no longer calls us servants, but He calls us friends. We have graduated to that position where there's not just an established relational dynamic, but a chosen one. We have gone beyond the roles that we started with and grown into a relationship that we desire, where we get to just enjoy the company of one another. It's a blessing to get to hang out and do things together. We come to relish the time that we have with God, no longer as children who sit on His lap for comfort and encouragement, but as grown, mature persons of faith humbled and honored to stand on holy ground. 

This is better, right? This is greater. This is beyond just being children of God; we get to be His friends. He wants us to be His friends. 

That's got to be what John had in mind when he wrote those words. He had to be thinking of a time when we, as children of God, would grow up and become more in the household of God. When we wouldn't require the kind of strict discipline and attention and rules and regulations that children require, when we wouldn't need the kind of overwhelming tending-to that we do when we are younger and immature. When God stops making us dinner all the time and instead invites us to the table. 

When we become friends of God. 

Children of God

If you've been around for awhile, you've heard me talk about this amazing change that occurs in Revelation, where the phrase "I will be their God...." suddenly ends in a new way. Instead of saying, "And they will be my people," John the Revelator says, "And they will be my children." 

This remains one of the most stunning shifts in all of Scripture, a shift that captures my heart every time and takes my breath away. Because it's one of those promises that God keeps talking about, over and over and over again, in the Scriptures - they will be children of God. You will be children of God. And then, here we finally have it - we are children of God.

For years, I have loved this. But now...

Now, I have stumbled upon a verse in 1 John that the Lord Himself only knows how many times I have read right past, a verse that changes my understanding of this Scriptural shift that I so love. In 1 John 3, we are told that we are now children of God, "but we don't know what we will be." 

In other words, we are already what God has promised, and promises, that we are - His children - but there is something even beyond this.

And that changes, well, everything. 

It's hard to fathom, as my heart has gotten so wrapped up in all of this stuff about being a people for so long and finally, finally becoming children. And for a people who consistently relate to their God as their Father, who spend their whole lives wrestling with what it means for Him to be a good Father when so many of us struggled with broken fathers in the flesh, it seems like there could be nothing better, nothing greater than finally settling into our identity as children. 

It seems like that's not all that there is, but it's the best that there is. Right? Like if we could finally just get to that place where we understand our role in the family dynamic, where we live in the household of God in such a way that we understand our belonging, where we lean into the good, good Fathership of God, well, isn't that where we would want to be?

This short passage in 1 John, these few words, stuck in my heart like glue, and I have wrestled with them. I was wondered what it means to be something other than a child of God, what it could possibly mean that John seems to imply that there is something more for us than being children of God, even when I have for so long read that as one of God's ultimate promises. There's something more than the more than I've let my heart lock onto for so long? There's something greater than this? There's something better than this? 

And I've come to the conclusion that...John is right. There is something better than being children of God, and it doesn't require us to give up our sonship or daughtership at all; it doesn't require us to lose that sense of God as Father. 

In fact, it builds upon it. 

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Speak Life

Why is that that we, as Christians, should place a special emphasis on noticing the way that words are used, and abused, in our culture? 

Quite simply because we understand the true power of words. 

We know that in the beginning, God spoke the world into being. One by one, thing by thing, being by being, God created (almost) everything we know by nothing more than saying the word. (Man, of course, He formed by hand.) John tells us that in the beginning was the Word, and that Word was Jesus Himself. Throughout the Scriptures, we are reminded of the power of a simple word. We are shown again and again and again that words bring life

...and death.

And that's what we're seeing happen in our culture right now. We are watching words be used to bring death, even to bring death to other words those words accuse of bringing death by the very same means that they are condemning in the first set of words, and we, who know the true power of words, are sitting by, basically singing "Sticks and stones." We're sitting around pretending that words don't matter when we know better. 

We know better because our faith is founded on them. 

It's frustrating. It's frustrating to see the church have absolutely no response to the way that culture abuses language for power. It's frustrating to see us sitting on the sidelines pretending that that's just the way things are and that there's no other way to be doing it. 

Forget that we are a people called to love one another, even to love our enemies. We're just as guilty as the rest of them in the way that we use our language. But maybe that's a digression. Or maybe it's not. What I know - what we know - for certain is that the church has not yet risen up to give power back to the word in a world that keeps trying to give words to power. We have not yet seen the people of God, the people of the Word, rise up in defense of language, testifying to the life-changing power that it has. 

Instead, we've seen Christians cower, afraid of the same kind of force of language coming against them that comes against everyone who dares to speak out against our use of it. The minute you become a voice that says that this isn't how language is meant to be used, you get shouted down - or worse. And I get it, it's frustrating. Because all it takes is for one person to say that what your words mean is something different than what your words said or even intended, and all of a sudden, you're the one whose words need torn down, right at the point where you were trying to use them to build up. 

Does that mean, though, that we're supposed to stop trying? Does that mean that we just give our language away because it's going to be used against us anyway? Does that mean that we stop speaking life just because the world is going to shout it down in death? 

It can't mean that. It just can't. Not if we believe that in the beginning was the Word.... 

So we have to pay attention. Because whether we realize it or not, the way that our culture uses - and abuses - language strikes at the very heart of our faith as we know it. And we, the one people in the world who ought to know better, have to be ready and willing to stand up and say so. 

We have to speak life, even in a culture of death, and give power back to the Word.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A War of Words

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. 

The old rhyme that so many of us were taught growing up is being turned on its head in our current culture, where we advocate for second chances for those accused, or even convicted, of violent crimes (domestic violence, for example), while we forever blacklist anyone who has ever used a word that we don't like. 

In the blink of an eye, one word muttered under your breath or something you said twenty years ago in a different place and time can completely undo the testimony of a lifetime. It doesn't matter how upstanding, generous, gracious a life you live - if your tongue gets away from you for one second, there's no such thing as grace. 

And while some cases seem clear-cut (specific key words that are completely unacceptable today, though not always the words that you might expect them to be), others are more complicated. In some cases, it doesn't matter what you actually said - what words actually came out of your mouth - but what happened next. Even if you didn't say it, if someone took it the wrong way and acted disagreeably on it, that's your fault, too. You never should have said those words. 

It's complicated, and it's enough to keep most of us biting our tongue altogether. More and more, we are becoming afraid to speak because we just never know what's going to offend someone, what's going to ruin our reputation, or how our words are going to be acted upon by someone who might hear or perceive something other than what we intended. 

To make it more difficult, there is no defense in our world for a transgression of words. There is nothing we can say to change the way that what we've already said has been perceived. We could play a video tape and have a verbatim transcription of a full dialogue, and it wouldn't matter one bit. What was heard was, forever, what was said, whether it actually was or not. 

The answer for many has been to tiptoe around language. We are afraid to say anything at all, lest we say the wrong thing or lest our words be twisted into something that we didn't mean. Even in terms of the Christian faith, as soon as we attach 'Christ' to anything that we say, a certain caricature and stereotype creeps up in the culture and drowns out the actual words that we've used. We become 'just one of those Christians,' whether what we said reflected what the culture despises about Christians or not. Whether it's actually merited or not. 

I think this is one of the reasons that, as a global church, we've been trying to put more emphasis on acting, rather than speaking. It's why it's easier for us to reach out and do a good work and just hope that others understand our reasoning rather than our actually starting a conversation or inviting someone to church. We have even convinced ourselves that it's possible to make disciples (the Great Commission) by action alone, that we never have to actually speak a word of the Gospel - despite the fact that Jesus's disciples all came to a word: Come. Follow me. 

The way that language sets us, and our culture, so much on edge is important for us to pay attention to. It's important for us to engage more deeply than our mainstream media (or even social media) invites us to. We have to dig down into this and discover what our world is really doing with words; we cannot just accept what they tell us they're doing or what seems obvious on the surface. We cannot afford to be undiscerning in this matter, nor can we afford to be disengaged. 

It takes a certain level of humility and authentic engagement. It takes us being willing to not take the first line that is fed to us, but to look honestly at what's going on and the context around it. We cannot simply jump on the bandwagon or hide in the ditches, hoping that the bandwagon doesn't find us. And why not? 

Because our very faith depends on it. 

(Stay tuned.)  

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

One for Another

This notion that the whole world isn't better off if we just do everything ourselves is true no matter what realm you're talking about. It's true in your job, whether you work construction or are a corporate banker. It's true in your family, whether you're the parent, the child, or the golden child. It's true in your church, whether you're the pastor or a pew-warmer. 

And it's true when we talk about personal ministry and evangelism, the kind of work that we do for Christ just by being His people who love Him.

We're talking here about all the pressure that we feel to be the 'one' who leads someone else to Christ. We're talking about that person that is just on your heart all the time, the one you want so badly to know the Lord. We're talking about that person you pray for every night, fingers crossed and hands folded, because you know - you just know - how much Jesus could do in their life, for their life, through their life. 

Are you thinking about this person yet? We've all got one. We all have at least one. Now, here's the truth that you need to know about that person, contrary to so much of what we often hear from the pulpit:

That person's salvation is not entirely up to you. 

We often hear it the other way around, that the persons in our lives are just waiting for us to be the one to open the door for them. That our neighbors, friends, and family are just sitting around in their horrible, non-Christian existences, waiting for us to finally convince them to come to church. We are told that everyone we come in contact with is our responsibility, that if we don't bring them to Christ, no one will, and it will be our fault that they burn in Hell for all eternity. (And there are postcards in the lobby for our Easter service, if you need to leave one on someone's door.) 

That's what we hear, but here's the truth: every individual that we come in contact with has a lifetime of experiences and encounters behind them, ahead of them, and all around them. They are going to have all kinds of opportunities to hear the Gospel from all kinds of persons - including, but not limited to, you. We live in a world with Christianity and Christian symbols all around; our calendar even marks our holy days. Even someone who is out in the yard looking for hard-boiled or candy-filled eggs understands that it's because that day is Easter. Everyone who sees a tree or a Santa Claus or a present understands that it's Christmas, even if he or she doesn't know yet the significance of Christmas morning. And everyone has someone in his or her life who isn't available on Sunday morning or who carries a Bible in her purse or who wears a Cross around his neck. We are talking about a culture where Christianity is very well integrated; this isn't some lost native people of an untouched land. 

And that means, it's not entirely up to you. It's not your job on earth to make someone a project, to stake your own being on their conversion. Your life is not a failure if Joe never comes to Christ, no matter how hard you try. Your life is a failure if you fail to live in fellowship with Joe whether he's in the church or not. 

And that's the danger when you think that you have to do it all yourself, when you think that it's up to just you. You spend so much of your energy focused on 'converting' someone, on 'completing' your project that you forget to just love your neighbor. You forget to see him for who he is and the very real life that he's living, a life in which you could have a tremendous impact if you weren't so hyper-focused on thinking that your impact has to look one certain way. 

Then, if Joe dies without ever coming to church, then what? Are you a failure because you never closed the deal? No, you're only a failure if you never made a difference in Joe's life. You're a failure if his life was not better off for knowing you, whether or not he ever came to know Jesus. 

Moses could have let the pressure get to him. He could have thought that he was going to be a failure if one Israelite failed to have a case settled by him. Even one. If Moses did not judge every single case that ever came up, he could have thought he failed someone. And maybe that's where he was headed until Jethro spoke. 

But the truth about Moses's life is that he was only a failure if he didn't continually meet with the Lord and lead the people through the wilderness, whether or not they still had beef with one another (and the testimony of the Scripture is that they did - forever). He could have judged his impact by the wrong metrics, though, and planted himself at the foot of that mountain and stayed there forever because he thought what he was doing was so important and that he was the only one who could do it. And if he had, no one would have ever seen the Promised Land, let alone set foot in it. At that point, even if Moses settled every dispute the Israelites had during his lifetime, we'd have to ask ourselves what the real impact of his life was. 

We have to ask ourselves what the real impact of our lives is. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

For Goodness Sake

Did you read it? We're talking about the story of Jethro's visit to Moses after Israel left Egypt, and I told you that there was something else vitally important that Jethro had to say about what Moses was doing and that even if you read the story, you might still miss it (primarily because it's not the kind of thing that we are prone to notice in our pride and self-centeredness). So did you read it?

Jethro told Moses that what he was doing was not good for him, that it was unsustainable. He could not keep it up. He could not be the one and only judge for all of the Israelite people forever; he would burn himself out. 

But here's what Jethro also says, what we're prone to miss because we're always thinking that everything is about us: 

It's not good for the people, either.

It isn't good for Moses to be the only judge for the entire nation, and it isn't good for the nation if Moses is their only judge. In other words, nobody's winning here. 

This is hard for us. It's hard because we tend to think that when we're doing everything, we're making sure it's done right. And if it's done right, then it's a blessing for everyone, isn't it? We know that we do things with the utmost of attention and care and skill, and doesn't that mean that everyone benefits from the work that we're doing when we're the ones doing it? We like to make ourselves indispensable, and part of that is proving that everyone is better off when we're in charge of things. 

But what Jethro says is...they're not. Not everyone benefits from your generous gift of yourself to them. The people are not better off when you're doing everything for them. 

And that seems strange on the surface. If you've got a problem in your life, isn't Moses the guy you want solving it for you? Doesn't it seem natural to go to the man of God in your camp and see what he has to say about things? Moses was known for his wisdom, for his faith, for his steadfastness. He's exactly the guy you want judging your case. 

Unless he's not. 

Unless having Moses do everything for everyone means that you have to wait, sometimes a long time, to get an audience with him. While you're waiting, your own insecurity takes over. Or your anger. Or maybe your hatred. Moses could not possibly judge every case before it festered, and once things start festering in a people...well, you know what happens. Anyone with coworkers or family or friends knows what happens. 

Or maybe you have to travel a long distance to get to Moses. Maybe you're trying to take a lot of evidence with you, or maybe you're holding something broken together, trying to preserve it in just the state that you found it - without making it better or worse. Now, your travel is a problem. And you think to yourself that Moses ought to come to you, if he really cared about you as a person. 

Now, all of a sudden, you're upset with Moses - and he hasn't even done anything yet! (That is, of course, why you're upset with him, but I digress.) And then that bitterness, too, starts to fester. And before you know it, there are all kinds of whispers in the camp about who this Moses thinks he is and how highly he must think of himself. (In fact, we see that as the story progresses - a group of men wants to know why Moses is so special and takes it upon themselves to be special, too, and then God smites them. But that's another story for another time.) 

And here we are with a man of God that the people are grumbling against because it doesn't take much, just one perceived slight, for the people to think that Moses doesn't really care about them at all. And when you think that your leader doesn't care about you, it's easy to disconnect from his leadership. Now, we're a people wandering in the wilderness without a leader because he doesn't care about us anyway, and if that's the case, then how are we ever supposed to get to the Promised Land? And why would we want to go with these people anyway? Our neighbor wronged us; we hate him. Our leader doesn't really care about us; we don't care about him, either. We've had all the time in the world for our bitterness and woundedness and insecurity to fester, and now, here we are, a people festering in the middle of nowhere...all because we put everything we had into the hands of one guy from whom it's hard to get a return on investment because he's so busy with everything and everyone else. 

And that's how a people lose their way. They lose their way by only having one guy to follow. By staking everything on the one-man show. 

Jethro knows this, and that's why he calls it out. Moses, this isn't good for you, and it isn't good for them. It doesn't matter how good of a guy you are, you're about to lose it for everyone. And for what? 

It's a hard pill to swallow, but we have to be willing to understand that we are not God's gift to men and that this world isn't really better off if we're running it by ourselves. It's better to spread the work around. 

That's true, by the way, not just in life, but in ministry and evangelism, as well. More on that, tomorrow. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

One-Man Show

There's this scene in Exodus when Moses's father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit the Israelite camp after they have left Egypt and secured themselves, relatively, into their journey. Jethro witnesses Moses sitting in a certain spot all day - the Bible tells us that he was doing so on this day, but does not necessarily imply that he did so every day - answering the questions and settling the disputes of the Israelites. 

And Jethro tells him that's no good. He can't take care of this many persons by himself. He's just one man, and this cannot be a one-man show. 

These are words that we need to hear. At least, they are words that I need to hear. I'm the kind of person who is prone to just picking things up and taking care of them herself. Something needs done? I'll do it. We have plenty of time? Great, I'll get right on it. It needs done yesterday? I'm already halfway there. There's just something about me that is the kind of person who sees something that needs done and...does it. 

This often, of course, leads me to a place where I end up doing more than I can reasonably do by myself. I take on more burden than I am able to carry. I shoulder more of the world than I was meant to. And of course, there always comes a breaking point.

It's something that I've gotten better at over the years, although I confess that there are still some tasks I continue to do because they were part of my one-woman show from many years ago, and I haven't found a way to break free of them yet. The thing is that once you take something on, you feel kind of guilty if you realize you shouldn't be doing it, even if you realize you shouldn't have done it in the first place. 

I bet Moses had part of this feeling himself. He probably judged one case, and then someone else brought him another. And he thought to himself, gosh, I can't not judge this case when I already judged that one. And then he decided that if someone was earnest enough about wanting to hear from the Lord that they'd bring their case to Moses, hoping that he'd talk to the Big Guy for them, then he would do it. If the people were going to be faithful, then Moses was going to faithful. It was as simple as that. 

And that's (probably) how Moses found himself sitting in a certain place in the camp, answering questions and settling disputes all day. 

Now, Moses was smart enough to listen to his father-in-law's wisdom when Jethro spoke. Maybe his soul was desperate to hear those words - you've got to stop this. You can't keep this up. Maybe Moses's spirit already knew that and was looking for a way out, but couldn't get past the guilt of deciding where he draws the line on something he seems to have already committed himself to. But Jethro speaks, and Moses listens, and the whole dynamic of the Israelite camp - and the dynamic of Moses's life - is changed because of it. 

But did you know that Jethro said more than we often remember in this story? He said more than we often even think we read. Because we're so quick to read his word about Moses, which resonates so deeply with so many of us - you're overextending yourself. You can't keep this up. 

But there's something else. Something else extremely important that Jethro said to his son-in-law that day in the Israelite camp. 

What was it? I'll tell you tomorrow. (Or, hey, you can cheat and go read the story yourself. But even then, you might not catch this.) 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Faithful God

Did you know that one of the top concerns of Christians is that they have needed too much grace? Oh, God cannot forgive me again. I've really done it this time. And one of the top concerns of non-Christians who might otherwise be inclined to seek the Lord is that they are too messed up for God to ever love them? I am just too broken. God could never love someone like me.

That's what all our posturing is getting us. That's what happens when the people of God believe that they have to pretend to have their lives all together. That's what happens when we continue to present to the world an image of infallibility and perfection, as if God's love has made our lives spotless. As if we are not in need of the very same grace as everyone else. 

And it's why it's so vitally important that we just be honest about who we are. So that we can be honest about who God is. So that the world can see not just that our God is a good God, the kind of God who forgives our sins and makes us whole, but so that the world can see that our God is a faithful God, the kind of God who forgives our sins and makes us whole again and again and again and again. As often as we need Him to. As often as we humble ourselves and ask. 

This is hard. It's hard because it's not something that we see a whole lot of in the Bible. The stories that we are given in the Scriptures seem to be one-and-done events. The blind man never comes back to Jesus and asks for a second healing (okay, except the one time when the people looked like trees walking around). The demon-possessed child doesn't come back with another demon in him. The lame man isn't carried to Jesus a second time by his friends. No, it seems that once the persons in the Gospel experience the healing touch of Christ, they are healed forever. 

But we should not take that to mean that they were then perfect. We should not take it to mean that because the blind man regains his vision forever, he no longer has any need for Christ. That's far from the case. 

And that brings us back to the place where we began - justification vs. sanctification. 

Sanctification is the ongoing work of Christ to make us whole, to create in us a new creation and to solidify all the new things He's doing in our life. Sanctification is the work that brings us closer and closer and closer to God, one step at a time. It's the work that keeps finding one more thing, one more thing, one more thing in our life that could be better, that could be more God-honoring, that could be more God-glorifying, and turning that into our new prayer. Our new greatest need. 

There is not one of us who ever comes to a point in our lives where we are not in need of sanctification. Where we no longer stand in need of God's grace. Every single one of us needs it every day, and when we're honest about that, we share our hope with those who need it most - those we introduced at the beginning of this post who look at our postured, so-called 'perfect' lives and can't fathom that God could love a screw-up like them. 

Our answer has to be, has to be, how couldn't He? He loves a screw-up like me. 

So let's just be honest about who we are - broken persons living broken lives and making the same broken decisions over and over again and standing continually in need of God's good grace. Let's be honest about who we are. 

So that we can be honest about who He is. Not just a good God, not just a loving God, but also a faithful God.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

An Alternate Reading of Scripture

As we talk about the kind of honesty and authenticity that the Good News of our Gospel ought to encourage in us, today, I want to offer an alternate reading of the Gospels (in other words, a made-up version) and see how much that inspires us to continue in the kind of Christianity that we are too often living, a shallow kind of Christianity. 

Imagine, if you will, a blind man on the side of the road. He's surrounded by a crowd of persons who are clearly excited about this man named Jesus who is somewhere in their midst. They are all remarking about what a sight it is to see this Jesus in person, to witness the kind of incredible mercies He is performing for the people. The blind man, not wanting to be left out, starts talking, too. He starts talking about this Jesus that he can also see, about all the things that are going on around him. Except, of course, he can't really see this Jesus. Not in the slightest. He's just making things up and hoping they don't sound too ridiculous, taking his cues from the crowd around him and the things they are saying. Eventually, he convinces even himself that he has truly seen Jesus and rests content in the knowledge of how close he was to this incredible Savior once the moment has passed and the crowd has gone home. This is a story that the blind man will tell forever. 

Or imagine that there is a man who has been paralyzed for quite some time. His friends know how much good it would do him to encounter Jesus, so they dig a hole through a stranger's roof and lower him down right in front of the Teacher. Jesus looks at the man, then turns back to the crowds and continues teaching. The man is so thrilled to be so close to Jesus, to have a front row seat to His teachings. He decides that after all of this is over, he's going to have his friends carry him home. He's going to lock himself in his bedroom and work really hard on walking. He's going to devote himself to hours of practice a day until he can finally stand on his own. And then, the next time this Jesus comes passing through town, he's going to walk right up to Him and shake His hand and say, "Remember me? I loved Your teaching so much, I went home and taught myself to walk just so I could come back and see You again." 

Or imagine if there were a man whose son was possessed by a demon. He gets a second to talk to Jesus, a quick little moment when Jesus is listening to him. And he shows Jesus the kinds of things that this demon is doing to his child, throwing him on the ground in terrible convulsions. Then, he says, gosh, Jesus. I just can't wait until You come in Your Kingdom and finally put an end to all of this. I am anxiously awaiting the day that You come back and set all these things right. I'm so excited for an eternity where this won't happen to my child any more. Lord Jesus, come back soon.

Now, let me ask you something - how much do these stories inspire you to fall in love with Jesus? How much do you want to believe in Him, knowing that the greatest thing He's ever done is, apparently, to inspire human beings to work harder on their own and to wait patiently for Him to come back? Not much of a God, is He? Not much worthy of our worship. 

So then, let me ask you something else - why do we think that these stories are our greatest witness to the world about who He is? Why do we think it's enough for us to claim that we've seen Him, when we haven't even asked to see Him? Why do we think it's enough for us to improve ourselves in the quiet of our own closets so we can show the world a thing or two about how Jesus inspires us? Why do we think it's enough for us to tell the world that we can't wait until He comes back and actually does what He could have done for us in the moment, if only we had asked? 

Why do we think the best way to tell the world about Jesus is to tell them stories of times that we didn't meet Him, of encounters that we never had to have, of needs we claim to never have had? 

The story of Jesus is in the healing of the blind man, the healing of the paraplegic, the casting out of the demons. The goodness of God is the way that He meets us in our iniquities, not in the way that He apparently inspires us to pretend that we don't have any. Imagine the Gospels if the blind man, the lame man, the deaf man, the demon-possessed, the bleeding woman, the sinner were not honest about their needs, about their hearts. Not much of a Gospel, not much Good News. 

Now, imagine our world, imagine our witness, if we were honest about our need for Him. 

It's not some flaw of Christianity that God's people stand in need of His grace; it's the very heart of the Gospel. Let us live it boldly, with confident assurance that our God is as good as we claim that He is. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A Good Grace

When we talk about being a people who are honest with ourselves and about ourselves, we, as Christians, ought to be leading the way on that. We, as Christians, ought to be the first ones to confess our shortcomings, to apologize for our failures, and to pledge out loud to do better. 

For we, as Christians, know the goodness of grace. 

You see, we, alone, have a God who knows that we are not who He created us to be, but loves us anyway. We have a God who holds us to account for the things that we can do better and continually calls us to them, without condemnation. We have a God who, when we fall our knees before Him, lifts us up. We have a God who has made us a new creation when our old one has betrayed us. We have a God who loves us so deeply that He is constantly rooting for us, no matter how we're playing right now. 

And the goodness of our God ought to give us the courage and the confidence to admit when we have some growing to do. 

Unfortunately, the opposite is too often true: we are too often afraid to admit any failure or weakness or insecurity because we think that it reflects poorly on our God. How could we call ourselves Christians if we cannot do the most basic things that God calls us to do? How can we continue to call ourselves Christians if we don't love one another well, if we aren't the first to extend mercy, if we cannot find it in our hearts to forgive? We do not want to make it seem, to a watching world, like God is not all that He's cracked up to be, and so we have created a narrative of Christianity where the best way that we can demonstrate God's love is by being perfect in it. 

But that's far from the truth. How is the watching world ever supposed to know God's love if His people are not standing in need of it every day? How are they supposed to know His goodness if we are good enough on our own? 

The best way that we witness God's goodness to a watching world is not by being perfect, but by being perfected. By letting God work in our lives in the ways that He needs to, and by confessing our need for Him. Confessing those places where we're not getting it right. Humbly submitting ourselves to Him again and again in repentance, in honest acknowledgment of who we really are - a people in need of the very grace we are called to give others.

The truth about our God is that He doesn't love us for who we might be tomorrow; He loves us for who we are today, when we submit our lives to Him. When we have hearts turned toward Him. God isn't waiting to love you and bless you and shower you with grace when you finally become someone He can be proud of; He loves you, and He's proud of you, in your becoming. He didn't just love Israel when she settled in Canaan; He loved her in Egypt and all the way through the wilderness. That's the kind of God He is. 

And if that's the kind of God He is, then we need not be afraid - of God or of the world - to be honest about who we are. It is only when we are authentic in our human experience that we can have a divine encounter. It is only when we are real about who we are that we can get real about who He is - in our own lives and as a witness to the watching world. 

This world is aching for truth, a real truth that they can hang their hats on. And that kind of truth starts in being honest - with ourselves and about ourselves and with each other. And that kind of honesty can only come with having the kind of confident assurance that our God gives us, a confident assurance of goodness and grace and love. 

So, then, we must consider that our greatest gift, as Christians, to our world is not to stand up and boldly declare that we have it all right, but rather, to be the first ones willing to stand up and say that we've gotten it wrong. Let us be the first ones to stand in the kind of honesty that makes truth possible, that makes community possible. That makes love possible. 

Let us be the first to stand on the kind of grace that we profess, for we know that the Lord is good and He will give it to us. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Best Policy

We've been talking about justification, sanctification, and conspiracy theories. (I know - it wasn't exactly what I planned, either. But here we are.) And the reason that I've gone ahead and spent as much time on this as I have is simple: it leads us into something holy and God-pleasing that we need to talk about.

And that holy and God-pleasing thing is honesty. 

Now, given the context, we could add a couple of related ideas in here - integrity, perhaps. Authenticity, for another. But what it boils down to is honesty. 

Because by now, my hope is that what you can see is that the root of these types of problems that we have with one another are truth problems. And these truth problems arise not from a set of external facts and circumstances, but from an internal posture.

So much of the trouble that we have with truth in our world is that we are not willing to be honest with ourselves.

In fact, we've been taught that we don't have to be. We've been told that we don't have to do the hard work of confessing our flaws, or even of owning them. If someone else has a problem with who we are, if we don't live up to our own expectations, then that's everyone else's problem. We are who we are, and we should stop being apologetic for that. There are all kinds of sayings and attitudes throughout our world about who can and can't 'handle' us and boldly throwing out there that we are who we are and if you don't like it, then 'bye.' We have been taught to be unapologetic for ourselves and in turn, that has taught us to be unrealistic about ourselves. 

Every single one of us believes we are infallible. It's why life so often takes us by surprise in devastating ways. We've been taught to believe that we're untouchable, or at the very least, that we ought to be. There are even those who go so far as to say "This is the way that God made me," and to use that as an excuse to never grow, change, or confess. 

But what we've seen in the past few days in this space is that it is this kind of attitude that leads us to all kinds of troubles with one another. And I'm not just talking about those that we come in contact with who make it difficult for us; it's us, too. All of us have a tendency for this. All of us have a tendency to believe that we're never the problem, to project our own insecurities onto others, and to stay grounded in conspiracy theories when the words we're being told sound all too much like the lies we've been telling for too long. 

The first step, then, that we have to take toward reconciliation - with each other and with ourselves - is not to get the other person to confess. It's not to be proven right. It's not to be justified, as we introduced the topic on Friday. The first step is not so expose this grand falsehood in the world.

The first step is to expose it in ourselves. 

The first step toward our reconciliation is to become ourselves the kind of persons we wish that others would be - honest. Honest with ourselves. Honest about ourselves. We have to be persons willing to confess the places where we're hung up, the places where we're getting it wrong. The places where we're insecure and prone to misconstrue things. We have to set an example of what it means to really be raw in the world, not as an unfinished product but as a work in progress, as persons believing we are not perfect, but we're being perfected. As persons believing we can do things better and being the first ones to step out and do so. 

And thankfully, as persons of faith, we have exactly the foundation that we need to do this. 

To be continued, tomorrow....