Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Jesus Didn't Baptize!

I was reading in John Chapter 4 about how new Christians were being baptized, but NOT by Jesus, by his disciples.  Why didn't Jesus baptize?
I read one scholar's answer online:
Because Jesus wanted to give the priveledge to his disciples, allow them to take part in this act of "people coming to Christ."
Well, atleast in my (humble) opinion.
I would like to suggest my theory on why Jesus turned over the responsibility of baptism to his disciples, why he let them take care of the sacred immersion ceremony instead of doing it himself.

Picture a warm day, in a small village near the Jordan river.  New Christian Jim, runs up to his friend, Mary with an excited look on his face.  His hair is still wet.

Christian Jim:  Hey, I just got baptized!
Christian Mary:  Congratulations! That's great!
Christian Jim:  Yeah, and guess who baptized me?
Christian Mary:  One of the disciples?
Christian Jim:  Nope.  Guess again.
Christian Mary: I don't know?  Tell me!
Christian Jim:  JESUS.
Christian Mary:  JESUS?
Christian Jim:  Yes, JESUS!
Christian Mary:  Really?  Wow. 
Awkward Silence. Mary looks down and draws circles in the sand with her toe.  She says halfheartedly:  Peter baptized me.
Christian Jim: Hmm.  That's nice.
Christian Mary:  Yeah, I guess.  But I wish Jesus' would have.  You're lucky.
Christian Jim:  I know. I feel extra blessed because it was Jesus.   I mean, don't get me wrong, Peter is great and everything, a real pillar that one, but, Jesus!  JESUS baptized ME! 
Christian Jim glances up to the heavens, raises his arms and closes his eyes.
Maybe that means something extra special is in store for me?  Maybe that means I am extra special?  I mean, it's not everyone who gets baptized by JESUS himself!  I half expected to see a dove descend out of heaven! Or thunder to roll or SOMETHING!  And his hands, his hands were so warm!  Totally surreal.  Wait 'til my mother hears that JESUS baptized me!  JESUS! 
Christian Jim spins around.
Hmm.  Where'd she go?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Here in My Kiddie Pool

I am here in my kiddie pool.  My feet are touching the smooth plastic bottom which has smiling turtles all over it.  There is only about six inches of water in this thing and if I sat down, it might come up to my hips.  Maybe.  If I lie down, by arms will flail out on the sides and my feet will hang over the edge. 
My kiddie pool is not on the ground.  It is floating.  It is drifting and floating and bobbing and sloshing out in the ocean, about fifty feet from shore.  It floats magically between the waves like a round bouy.  It does not tip over. I am standing up in it, in my six inches of water, and riding it like a surfboard.   Seagulls cry overhead.  Seaweed drifts by in tangles piles of copper and black.  The sun is warm and I can see the shore behind me and the vast stretch of ocean in front of me.  The horizon is a straight line that undulates with each wave.   

Before you think I have taken acid and am having a really bad trip, let me explain.

My kiddie pool represents what I know about God.  How much I understand Him.  It is a metaphor for my shallow, finite understanding of  God's deep, infinite ways.  Like the six inches of water I'm standing in, that is how deep my understanding of THEOLOGY goes.  That is how well I am able to wrap my head around the "BIG QUESTIONS OF THE FAITH."  You know the ones that Christians discuss, debate and divide over?  Cornerstones for disagreement like the Trinity, predestination vs. free will, the 2nd coming, the mysteries of baptism and communion...whether Jesus fulfilled or abolished the law...and how can there be so much pain if God exists? Why did he create those he knew would disobey, kill and rebel against him?  I'm standing in just enough knowledge to drown in it, but not swim.  I can sit in it, stir it around a bit, feel some satisfaction, but I can't stretch out, move my arms and legs in a rhythm that propels me too far.  I mainly just sit and wonder what it would be like to dive out into the ocean. To abandon my kiddie pool - the one that traps me and yet saves me from being lost, keeps me from drowning in this vast sea -  this ocean that is God, His Word, His Will, His Ways.
Once in awhile, a wave will wash over the edge of my kiddie pool.  Not enough to capsize, just enough to replenish and refresh. It feels awesome.  It happened a few weeks ago when I was reading a sermon about the virgin Mary.  I had never really studied or understood Mary.  Growing up Baptist, you leave that to the Catholics.  This author opened my eyes to how Mary truly was "full of grace."  God fulfilled his purpose through Mary and will do the same with me. Amazing grace! Wow! A gentle wave flooded into my kiddie pool.  I sat there, the cool water now slightly above my hips, and cried for awhile.  I wasn't sad.  I was enlightened, humbled, amazed.
The other day I read Isaiah 61 and it happened again.  I felt like it was the first time I had ever read this passage.  This is what Jesus read in the temple! (Luke 4)  "Behold the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because the Lord has annointed Me!" Jesus pointed to this passage after reading it and said to everyone in the temple, THIS IS ABOUT ME!   HUNDREDS of years ago, this prophet Isaiah was talking about ME!  HERE I AM!  Another cool wave came overboard.

I have seen other people in kiddie pools out here in this sea of vastness.  Not all their pools have smiling turtles like mine. I've seen flowers, dinosaurs, stars - pink, mint green, light blue - but all plastic, all small.  Some people don't seem to realize they are standing in a kiddie pool.  They talk and act like they have commanded a great ship to exotic places or have taken a submarine down to the Mariana Trench. They have seen the ocean, traversed the ocean, been IN the ocean, I KNOW THE OCEAN! they say.  They don't want to admit that at best, they have dipped their hand into the ocean, or felt the occasional overboard wave.  Maybe a few have been snorkeling, just floating along the surface looking down, but most don't look like they have ever been wet. But somehow, they understand it all.  They "get it" - this shimmering, powerful, overwhelming ocean - the broad, endless blue and the murky darkness below.  They talk like they understand it all, like they've seen all of it, been to every shore,  explored the depths.  They make me want to paddle away.  They make me self-conscience. Doubtful. Small.  One guy had on scuba gear.  As he passed me, he said he had been "down there" and he pointed over the edge of his kiddy pool. 
Down there?  Really?  Wow. I said.  What did you see?
Some new fish.  He said.
Anything else?
Not really, mainly blackness.  I couldn't see very far.
Well, did you swim around?  Look around?
No, I got scared.  It was a little scared to be out in such deep water just looking around.  The few fish I saw were amazing, but for the most part, I couldn't see much, just a bit here and there when the surface light broke through.  I am glad I got to see what I did, but I felt so small out there, kinda lost, dangling, you know?
Yes, I know. 
I sat down in my kiddie pool.  I reached my hand over the edge and let it float in the water.  He paddled over to me and took my hand.  Behind him, a woman in a purple kiddie pool with rainbows on it reached out toward us with both hands.  He swung her around with one arm toward me and together, we pulled her in toward us.  Our boats came together.  The edges made a cracking sound when they met, but did not break.  We were 3 floating circles. 
I've never been in the water, I said.
Me neither said the woman.
I heard there is so much to see.
There is! said the man. There is so much to see and so much to discover and yet this is only one small part of the sea right here below us.  
What about what is over there?  Out there?  The woman asked.  She released our hands to point out in various directions.
There is more than we can ever see, the man said. This is just one sea, after all.
There are more seas?  The woman asked.
Oh yes, many more.  Ones we will never reach.  There is so much to discover.
We all looked around at eachother in silence.
Then we stared out at the horizon.  The sun was falling toward it.  The ocean water was beginning to lose its color while the sky was filling with yellow and orange.
We reached out our hands.  Our kidding pools gently clacked together as we pulled ourselves closer.  We interlaced our warm fingers, closed our eyes and lifted our chins toward the setting sun. We prayed.  We shared where we had been, what we had seen, what we thought we understood. We listened, we learned and we laughed.  The sun dropped farther. A wave clapped over the edge of our kiddie pools, filling each one slightly. It was warm.
We paddled toward the shore.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Your God is Too Small!

Title: Your God is Too Small
Book by JB Phillips
I recently finished this amazing little book (Available at your local library or on Amazon.com) and thought I would share some of the insights that I found particularly helpful.

Phillips begins the book by describing what God is NOT. He addresses many of the common attitudes or thoughts toward God. He elaborates on the ways we box up God incorrectly either for our own comfort or because we do not know our Bibles, only what we have heard or been told.
Some of the following is my paraphrase of Phillips' points.

God is NOT:
My Conscience (that nagging inner voice.)
My Father (my actual Father, Mr. Horner - in other words, a parental hangover.)
My Old Man (old, antiquated, old fashioned, weak)
My Teddy Bear (Mild, sentimental, soft)
My Perfectionist (only interested in what is perfect)
My Escape (a place to hide)
My Religion (A Lutheran)
My CEO (involved, started the whole thing, but detached, impersonal, "The Man")
My Hand-Me-Down God (re-hashed conglomerate of everything I hear, read and see)
My Big Let-Down (a god who disappoints because he lets evil & pain occur)
My Big Frown (lacks vitality, stiff, no sense of humor, negative, angry)
My Reflection (A god who feels, acts and thinks the way I do, & we share a moral compass)
My Mystic Saint (a spiritual feeling or experience, a vision)

There is an 'essence' of all of the above, some truth in each, but God is not accurately reflected nor wholly contained in any or all of the above.
Below are some other statements Phillips makes that I found quite amazing.  He seems very interested in helping us realize that we way we see and treat God inhibits or stunts our relationship with him and is detrimental to others.

Is God with us?  Maybe not.
"There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into "churchiness" and the narrowing of the Gospel into a set of approved beliefs, but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped, regulated god who is a "good church goer" according to the formulas of the worshipper. If Christians believe that God works exclusively through the machinery they have erected, and damns all other machinery which does not bear their label, they cannot be surprised when God "refuses to join their union...no denomination has a monopoly on God's grace and none has the exclusive recipe for producing Christian character."

"If you've got the corner on God, you've put God in a box."

Why do truly beautiful things cause us to feel slightly sad?
"True beauty always seems to bear with it a note of gentle sadness, sometimes very poignant, and it may well puzzle us why this should be? If beauty is so desireable and so welcome, it should surely bring inqualified joy. There is rarely an accompanying sadness in other early joys...in a hearty meal, solving a problem, fulfillment of creativity...there is joy but no melancholy. It is perhaps because pure beauty is a hint of the real and true and permanent so that we feel, "This is what life should be, or what it is in reality." And therefore to compare that to our ordinary everyday experience with all its imperfection and ugliness gives rise to the poignant pain?...Is the eternal spirit remembering in his house of clay the shining joys of his real home?"

Why do some call Jesus just a great teacher or historical figure?
To call Jesus the greatest Figure in History or a Fine Moral Teacher the world has ever seen commits no one to anything. But once the startled mind accepts the fact that this man is really God, may commit anyone to anything! There is every excuse for blundering in the dark, but in the light there is no cover from reality. It is because we strongly sense this, and not merely because we feel that the evidence (for God) is ancient or scanty, that we shrink from committing ourselves to such a far reaching belief as that Jesus Christ is really God."

What really matters in this world?
"If we are really seeing in human relationships fragmentary and faulty but real refelctions of the Nature of God, a flood of light is immediately released upon all the life that we can see. People, and our relatinonships with them become of tremendous importance. Much of life is seen as merely a "setting", its stage, its props - the BUSINESS of it is in the realm of personality: it is people not things that matter."
Example: The setting: Trial & Crucification of Jesus in Rome due to jealousy, fear, hatred of those around Him. Relationship: Jesus with God and Jesus with us. "The fact is wherever and whenever Christ would have appeared: evil would clash with Incarnate Good and whether it was a cross, rope, guillotine, or a gas chamber, Christ would choose to accept death for humanity's sake."

The Beatitudes, in the style of JB Phillips:
"Happy are those who realize their spiritual poverty: They have already entered the Kingdom of reality.
Happy are those who bear their share of the world's pain: in the long run they will know more happiness than those who avoid it.
Happy are those who accept life and their own limitations: they will find more in life than anybody.
Happy are those who long to be TRULY good: they will fully realize their ambition.
Happy are those who are ready to make allowances and forgive: they will kno wthe love of God.
Happy are those who are real in their thoughts and feelings: in the end they will see the ultimate reality - God.
Happy are those who help others to live together: they will be known to be doing God's work.

Your God is Too Small is definitely worth reading and while it's small size makes it an easy read, you'll want to read it slowly and let it digest.  What you'll find inside is profound and thought provoking.

In addition...
As many of you know, JB Phillips does a great modern, paraphrased version of the Bible ("The Bible in Modern English") that is now out of print.  To buy a used copy, check out amazon.com or half.com

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oak of Righteousness!

I grew up in Thousand Oaks, California, so I have a connection to oak trees and they are by far, my favorite tree.  I was born in "Los Robles" hospital, spanish for "The Oaks" so in essence, I was born in a oak grove!  I have many pictures of them, some framed.  I occasionally wear my silver oak pendant.  I love them (but I do stop short of hugging them.)  I have seen many a pine, ash and eucalyptus tree, even Sequioa redwoods, but nothing stirs me like a glorious oak.  They are strong, tall, robust, interesting, usually old trees that can stand through nearly any windstorm or weather.  Their leaves have soft underbellies, with sharp waxy edges.  The bark of an oak can tear at your knees, while their branches, with their many twists and turns, serve as a playground for playful squirrels.  Many have bulky, craggy trunks which will sometimes split open into dark holes where as a child, I would hide rocks, coins and other treasures.  I once left my favorite doll in the belly of an oak.  Oaks are truly magnifiscent and I am sorrounded by them still. There is one "middle-aged" oak just a few miles from me that even though I see it several times a week, still captures my eye.

I was reading in the gospel of Luke today, in Chapter 4, where Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  He is handed a scroll containing Isaiah's words, finds this passage and reads aloud for all to hear:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me
Because He has annointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
Heal the brokenhearted;
Proclaim liberty to the captives;
To proclaim the year of the Lord!
He closes by saying, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing it!"
In other words, "Those words you just read, they are about ME! I AM THE annointed MESSIAH and this is what I have come to do: preach, heal, proclaim!  Your Saviour is here!"
The others in the synagogue were impressed with his words, but did not believe him.  They said, "Messiah?  Isn't this the guy from Galilee?  Joseph's son?  How can he say Isaiah was referring to HIM?"

So I turned to Isaiah to find the passage Jesus was reading from.  It is Isaiah 61.  Here it is:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
3 To all who mourn in Zion
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Great OAKS!  Isaiah was describing Jesus hundreds of years before He would be sent by God to earth.  He was describing what Jesus was coming to do and the hope he would bring to all who believed.  All those who he came for, all those who believe He is the Messiah, would be like GREAT OAKS for his glory.  Well, this means ME!  Needless to say, Isaiah 61 immediately became one of my favorite passages.
I re-wrote it for myself and found it a great comfort in light of some discouragement and despair I have been feeling lately. 

Jesus was sent by God to do all of this: 
Tell me the Good News (Jesus saves!)
Heal my broken heart
Free me from my chains
Comfort me when I mourn
Exchange my dirty ashes for eternal beauty
Exchange my mourning for joy!
He gives me a message of praise in exchange for my words of despair! 
He will make me a GREAT OAK for HIS glory!

Lord, continue to make this child of the oaks, into a GREAT OAK for your glory...rooted in you, righteous, renewed, full of hope and joy, strong in faith, reflecting your glory in all I do.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flashbacks, Hotflashes & Flashes in the Pan

The other day I asked a friend who is going through menapause, "So, how have your flashbacks been lately?"
We both laughed outloud.  I meant "hotflashes."  She said, "Great!  Are flashbacks something else I have to look forward to with menopause?"  (Don't you mean 'look back to'?) Anyway...I got to thinking...we have a lot of "flashes" in life, don't we?

Flashes in the pan.

What do they all have in common?  They are all a part of life - various things that perplex, plague and perturb us. I think they also describe three very distinct things that affect our Christian lives.

Flashbacks - These are things that have happened to us in the past that cause us to want to give up the faith.  Past sins.  Failures.  Painful memories (Where was God?) "Christians" who have hurt us, let us down or been outright "un-Christianlike" in how they have treated us.  These all pop into our minds at various times and makes us wonder, "Do I really want to follow Christ?"  There sure are a lot of bad memories in the past!  There sure have been some dark times!  I sure have done some really terrible things!  And others have done some really terrible things to me - some in the name of God!

Hotflashes - These are moments where we are overcome with emotion and passion for God.  We hear a sermon, read an inspiring passage, receive comfort from a friend, see God at work through answered prayer, and WOW!  We are flush with joy!  We are overcome with the warmth of knowing that we are not alone, we have a purpose and we are loved!  We reach out in love.  We glow. We grow.  We are on fire.
Then the moment is gone. 
Back to reality.  The rosy redness disappears from our face.  The grind kicks in.  We wipe the glow off our brow and move on.  Our faith goes pale.  Red hot love simmers down to lukewarm.  We'll show passion another day.  The next time we feel inspired, that is.  Until then, we're pretty bland.  Just pushing through.  Maybe another flash will come along soon, but it will take something - someone else - to bring it on. 

Flashes in the Pan - We read God's word.  We go to church. We give back to our community.  For a little while.  And then, flash! We're gone.  Back to our pursuits.  Back to our wants. Back to focusing on this present world and all that comes with it.  God's world?  We'll pop in and out of that one as the years go by and as our schedule allows.  Oh look, there she is again!  Oh look, is he back?  Give a little, take a little, disappear.  Read a little, fall asleep.  Pray a little, forget to pray.  Show up and serve, make a difference and then vanish.  I'll get back with God when I feel like it, when the time is right, when things settle down, when it's convenient.  Just like that - FLASH - we are there and FLASH we are gone. 

God can handle all of our flashbacks, hotflashes and even our flashes in the pan.  The good news is he loves us and wants to "create a new heart" in us (Psalm 51) so that we can serve him devotedly, passionately, consistently and faithfully. 
He can help us let go of the things in our past that keep "cropping up" and keeping us from a close relationship with Him and with others. 
He can make us more than flashes in the pan. We mistakenly think the "pan" we flash in and out of is ours - actually, he holds it!  He holds the world - it is HIS.  Our lives?  His!  Not our's! We just think we hold the pan handle. 
He can help renew our passion for Him, for others and for service, so we have more than just "hotflashes" of faith and devotion based on emotional experiences.  He can create a steadfast faith in us that lasts even when the emotional high of a good sermon or a great moment has passed.
And we don't need to serve him in flashy ways.  We can serve Christ right where we are.  The mission field is right outside our front door.  There is no need to go "flashing" off to another country.  There is no need to go "loud and proud" in our service of God.  (When we go that route, it is more about us than about God anyway.) He simply wants us to serve with our whole hearts and not to be lukewarm.  (Revelation 3:16) This does not mean that we can never relax or take time for ourselves.  It does mean, that whatever we do, we do it heartily on to the Lord. (Colossians 3:23). It means we see each day, each word we say, each person we meet as a gift, an opportunity to spread the gift of God, which is love.  We echo the words of Isaiah, "Here I am Lord, send me!"

I know one thing. I cannot fight my spiritual hotflashes, flashbacks or my inclination to be a "flash in the pan" on my own.  I need God's help to be all he has created me to be - a reflection of Him.  And He WILL provide, guide and encourage me as He has promised to...for He is no flash in the pan; He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Only Some Can Fly

"In a world full of people, there are only some who can fly. They're not crazy."  (From a song by Seal)

Those who can fly:
Speak the truth. Even when it is unpopular. And they do it in love.
Stand up for what is right even when it is both unpopular AND dangerous.
Forgive. Completely.
Read their Bible. Live their Bible. Not be ashamed that they do both.
Put others before themselves.  They focus externally. Look for ways to be kind.
Share love openly with others without being afraid of getting hurt.
Share love openly with others without expecting anything in return.
They create - sing, draw, sculpt, express in ways that move and inspire us.
Think for themselves & think things through.  You can't put their minds in a box.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Make a difference in the world without making a show of it.
Do their work, whatever it is, cheerfully.
Have thankful hearts.

Why are there only SOME who can fly?
It is easier to go along with the crowd.
It is easier to hold a grudge.
The Bible can be difficult to understand. Especially that dreadful Old Testament.
It's scary to share my faith and difficult to live it.
There is an epidemic of selfishness and I've been infected.

I don't know my talents.  Am I good at anything?
I don't share my gifts.
A party, politician, preacher or pundit tells me what I think. It's easier that way.
Being vulnerable has risks. I'm safer if I don't love openly, passionately.
It requires time and energy to make a difference. I don't have either.
Complaining comes naturally.  Something's always going wrong.

So why are the ones who can fly, NOT crazy?
Those who can fly might be rare, but they are not crazy.  They are different, but not insane.  They choose to live in a way that rejects "living for now" and embraces "living for God."  They love Him and love others in the way that is visible, noticeable, humble.  Their love is not merely a feeling; it is shared openly through acts of kindess, honest words, and personal sacrifice.  These are people who are known for their thoughtfulness.  They have thankful hearts.  Their hope is contagious.  They fly because they love the Lord, live for Jesus and are lifted by the Spirit.

There are lots of "Christians", but few are flying.  Most have had their wings clipped by fear, apathy, selfishness, greed or pride.  Some have had their wings broken by other judgmental "Christians."  These "Christians" told them they could never fly unless they changed their ways, joined their church or agreed with their doctrine. 
Some can fly, but their wings have atrophied.  They haven't been used in so long, they have lost their muscle.  These are Christians who go along with others.  They see wrong, but don't work to right it. They ignore dishonesty.  They think kindness has exceptions. They are not outraged and moved to action when they see hopelessness, starvation, suicide, child abuse.  They don't seek justice, love mercy or walk humbly. They skim their Bibles if at all.  They throw a check into the offering plate, but don't get involved.  They have wings, but don't use 'em.  Their idea of giving to charity, is giving change to a homeless person.  The most thoughtful they get is buying a Mother's Day card. 
Their bellies are full; their hearts hardened, their eyes dimmed and their wings limp.

Where are the "some who can fly"?  May they rise up with wings like eagles!

Isaiah 40:31 Micah 6:8
Proverbs 3:5-6, 4:23
Psalm 90:12
Ecclesiastes 12:13

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mixed Messages!

Everyone has seen a Christian fish bumper sticker and nearly everyone has a story about how someone with THAT SAME bumper sticker has gone speeding by them, or nearly run them off the road. 
Mixed message:  I am a Christian, but I drive like the devil!

A few years ago I saw a green Sedan cruising along next to me with a COEXIST bumper sticker.  Right next to this sticker, was a fish magnet with legs that said "Darwin" inside the fish.

Mixed message:  Be tolerant and respectful of all religions. (Except Christianity of course.)

Yesterday, I saw a black Mercedes with license plate that read like this:  (heart)MyMrcds
In other words, "I love my Mercedes."  Next to it, stuck right on the bumper, was a fish sticker.  (There wasn't a dollar sign inside the fish, thankfully.)

Mixed message:  I love my luxury car A LOT. (Oh, and I love Jesus, too.)

Made me think.  What mixed messages am I sending?

Now, I don't have anything on the bumper of my car.  I don't wear "Jesus apparel."  I don't wear WWJD bracelets or carry my New Testament in my pocket or wear a cross around my neck.
I do wear a facial expression.  Does it reflect the joy of knowing Christ?  Are my words kind? Where do I focus my gaze? 
I do carry an attitude.  Am I humble?  Am I cheerful?  Do I bring more joy to a room when I leave it than when I come in?
While I may not wear Jesus on my sleeve, I do wear my heart on my sleeve.  Does it reflect Him? Is it loving toward others?
Or am I delivering mixed messages like the bumpers above?
In other words, I am known as someone who loves God by my family, co-workers and others.  Does what I say and do contradict or confirm my relationship with God?  Do people only HEAR of my love or do they SEE, FEEL and EXPERIENCE it?
Am I just a flat, inanimate, lifeless "faith statement" sticker of a Christian (I HEART JESUS) or am I a dynamic, expressive force of love in this world?
Am I more in love with myself, my car, my work, (my, my, my!) or is the focus of my love, first to God and second to others?  Am I known more for being a "sports lover" "music lover" "pet lover" or a "book lover" than a "people lover"?
The bumper of my car may be empty, but the bumper of my life (what the world sees) is definitely not.  Lord, help my message to be clear, not mixed.  I love you.  I love others. May I clearly show both in word and deed!

I John 4:7-8
I Corinthians 13

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Love You So Much, I'll Jump Off a Bridge

Yesterday was Mother's Day and you probably told your mother you loved her.
What if she had responded by saying, "I love you too, honey.  In fact, I love you so much I am going to go jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and kill myself."
You'd be horrified.  Perplexed.  Is she joking?  Is she serious?  Is she crazy?  Gosh, Mom, I knew you were getting up there in age, but really?  Jump off a bridge because you love me?  Maybe it's time to see a psychologist.

But isn't that what we Christians sound like when we tell people who don't know the Gospel that "Jesus loves them so much he died for them"? Maybe some people have a vague idea that "Jesus died for their sins", but do they really understand what that sacrafice means? Do they know the reason Jesus died?  Why the crucifiction HAD to happen? 

So maybe we share with them a little bit about why Jesus died and we say that "Jesus took their place" - another common Christian phrase.  My place?  My place in line?  My place at the beach? Huh?  This Christian jargon is so familiar to us, but must sound a bit crazy to those outside the "holy bubble."

Yes, Jesus died for me because he loves me, but that is not the whole story.  He HAD to die because my sin requires retribution by a just God.  This is why a lot of people don't like the Old Testament.  God is "mean" and "angry", one minute and loving and forgiving the next.  He unleashes his wrath on sinners in ways that are flat out disturbing.  (The word "smite" comes to mind!)

We are born sinful, apart from God, and need reconciliation.
We continue to sin throughout life.
Our inherited sin (or "original sin" as some call it) and our continuing sin requires retribution. (He can't just "let us off" if he is truly a just God.)

Wow.  That is heavy and a bit disturbing, isn't it?  The Gospel of Grace isn't an entirely pretty story.

In a past blog entry, I mentioned how I watched the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and how I felt every whip on Jesus's body that was made by the Roman soldiers.  Crack after crack the of the whip came down on Jesus' body opening up large, gaping wounds.  I winced and eventually could not look.That lashing was meant for me!  Instead Jesus bore it. Each crack represented retribution, repayment, and restitution.  With the crucifiction of Jesus (and the resurrection) came reconciliation, restoration and renewal.  As Isaiah 53 says, "By His wounds, we are healed."  Our relationship with a just God is restored because he gave up his one and only Son, Jesus, as payment for our sins.  What an enormous debt to pay and what a loving God to do so!
Now of course, Jesus IS God and so God is BOTH just and loving, angry and forgiving, but I will save the Trinity Doctrine for someone who can better explain it.  For now, I will just say that I don't have to understand how it all works, I just have to accept in faith, that Jesus did become my Savior on Calvary and live my life as a reflection of my gratitude for this debt having been paid.

Jesus wasn't suicidal; He was sacrificial.

I John 2:2, 4:10
Hebrews 2:9-15

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Missing the Colossus!

Today I was driving north on the 5 freeway, just north of Los Angeles. As I neared Santa Clarita, traffic began to slow dramatically.  I noticed the next exit was backed up and so I moved one lane closer to the fast lane.  As I merged into my new lane, I looked out at the people in the car on my right.  They were pointing eagerly out the window and over my car.  The car was packed and every mouth open in the shape of an "ooh!" or an "aah!"  The teenage girl in the backseat appeared to be about to burst with excitement as she pointed eagerly out the window to somewhere over my car and beyond.  What in the world were they so excited about?  I looked out my driver's side window.  Nothing. Just a lane of fast moving cars.  I looked to the soutbound lanes - was there an accident?  A jackknifed big rig?  Nope.  I cranked my head over toward my window and tried to look up.  Maybe a plane was coming in low, too low, for LAX about 35 miles away?  Was there a police helicopter? UFO? Negative.  I focused back on the road.  What had I missed?
About a half mile down the road, I figured it out.  Looming large to my right was something I saw everyday.  In fact I saw it so much, I didn't even see it any more.
Six Flags Magic Mountain.
One of the biggest amusement parks in the world. 
Home of the Viper, Superman, Batman and of course, the world famous white, wooden roller coaster, The Collosus.
The family I saw in the car, was just about to exit and head to the park.  They were pointing at the twisting orange and green rails that looped and dropped hundreds of feet in the air, the large red "skyneedle" in the middle of the park, and of course, the looming white wooden lattice work that was the ominous frame of the oldest coaster in the park (and still one of the best.)
They were thrilled!
I was indifferent.
I drive by Magic Mountain several times a week.  I have been there more times than I can count with friends, family and packs of kids from local camps.  As a kid myself, I came several times with busloads of other youth from my church.  Then again as a senior in high school, all the way from Northern California; it was our first stop before Venice Beach the next day and then finally Grad Night at Disneyland just down the road.  Magic Moutain was always such a thrill!  The names of the rides describe them perfectly - The Revolution, Drop-Off, The Log Jammer.  I always loved the scariest ones.  If you're coming from the south, you have to pass the park before you can exit.  This just adds to the drama. The anticipation builds. The whole place looms out your window like a gothic city of frightful fun. The butterflies start. Look!  There it is!  Magic Moutain!
Once, I couldn't take my eyes off you.  Today, I don't even notice you.

Reminds me of what happens to the Gospel.

I grew up in Christian home and with the exception of a few years of being home schooled and a few years in college, spent my entire youth in Christian schools.  I went to church 3 times a week.  My parents read the Bible at home.  I said my prayers, memorized verses and earned "Pioneer Girl" patches at church for being helpful and kind to animals, my parents, seniors.  In all of this religious rigor, I heard the gospel a million times. 
John 3:16.
Jesus saves. 
He came, he died, he rose again. 
He died for my sins. 
He sent his only Son. 
By His wounds we are healed. 
He lives! 
How many times I heard these words!  Easter, Christmas and all points in between I heard them preached, read, spoken and sang.
I recently heard a preacher say, "God help us if we ever get to the point where we hear the Gospel message and are not moved."
God help me.
God move me.
I can't say I'm not moved by the Gospel, just maybe not as much as I wish I were.  Most times, my reaction is closer to jaded than jubilant if I'm honest.
On Good Friday, I watched the movie "The Passion of the Christ."  I hadn't seen it in years, in fact I hadn't seen any movie about Jesus in years, so I was curious how I would respond.
I was devastated by it. 
When the Roman soldiers whipped Jesus, I winced with every blow.  After awhile, I couldn't watch.  I just held my head and cried as they beat him mercilessly over and over and over.  Then they spit on him. I reeled.  How dare you spit in the face of God?  I wanted to reach out and wipe the spit off Jesus' face.  Then, I bawled when Peter denied him three times, yelling in fear "I don't know him!  Leave me alone!  I don't know him!"  I wiped my face as the tears rolled. That is me! I did that!  For ten years I wanted nothing to do with you!  I betrayed you Lord!  How could I?  I felt so guilty I was physically sick.

I knew then, my eyes were still sensitive enough to see what Jesus did and to be amazed, even blinded by his love. I was moved.  My heart wasn't hardened.  Jesus's love was not just a hackneyed story of my youth; something played out on flannel graph in Sunday School or acted out by the church choir one week before Easter.  The Gospel message still penetrates my heart and ignites my soul!  The flame is not out.  It flickers.  Sometimes it even flares up!  Yes, I still have passion for the PASSION!

So, Magic Mountain may have lost its appeal.  I can speed right on by it and not feel the slightest urge to point, gasp or gape.  I'll leave that to the tourists.  But the mountainous magic and wonder of God's love as displayed by Jesus on the cross at Calvary? 
I might miss the Colossus, but God help me if I miss the colossal love of the cross!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Forget My Daily Bread...I Want the Bakery!

"And give us this day, our daily bread..." (Matthew 6:11)

If you're a Christian, you've said the Lord's Prayer many times. I have said this prayer more times than I can count, but the other day this line in particular stood out to me - - "Give us this day our daily bread."  
Or as some paraphrased versions of the Bible say:  "Give us the food we need for today."
What stood out was not only what is said, but what it did not say.
It did NOT say:
"Give us this day our weekly bread and monthly stockpile.  As a matter of fact, give me the BAKERY!"
Nope, just give me the bread I need for today, Lord.  Give me what I need to get through the day.  Just a few bites, a morsel, a perfect portion.  Enough sustenance to make sure my heart pumps and my muscles work and my head stays clear.  Just today.  Just what I need for today.
The prayer in Matthew 6 is to be used as a model for our prayer life. Why would Jesus instruct us to pray simply for our DAILY bread and nothing more?

I think there may be several reasons...

He wants us to ask Him for what we need for today and TRUST that He will provide for tomorrow.
For people who don't grow up with a lot of food in the house, this could be difficult.  I saw a show on TV where a woman hoarded food, stockpiling soups, cereals and canned goods in her pantry, garage, everywhere.  She explained that as a child, her family never had enough food.  They would split one can of beans for dinner. They would tear a piece of bread four ways and share it.  Dessert was whatever they could find in the trashcans outside of supermarkets or behind bakeries.  Now, that she has money, she didn't want to ever go without again. She never wanted her children to feel the painful knot of hunger in their bellies like she had.  She had a home of her own, a decent income and so she compulsively hoarded food to ensure she and her children never went hungry.  She didn't no what tomorrow would bring.  Would she be unemployed? Back on the street?  Living day to day?  Would she have money for groceries?  Today, she had a job and money.  So today, she bought 10 cans of ravioli and placed them next to the other 10 cans already in her pantry.
Do I act the same way with God?  Do I trust that he WILL provide?  Maybe not.  Maybe that is why he instructs us to pray for what we need today.  Don't worry about tomorrow. I see when the sparrow falls remember?  Certainly, I will take care of you.  Trust me.  Just ask for what you need for today.

He wants me to acknowledge him as the Giver of the Bread (and all good things.)
Could it also be that if God gave me the BAKERY (or more bread than I could eat in a day) that I would become complacent in thanking him?  Would I forget to acknowledge him as the Giver?
 I've got twelve rolls of sourdough, ten loaves of wheat bread, 4 Wonder Breads for the kids' sandwiches and even some of those Little Debbie's.  I'm set.  Good to go.  Don't even need to pray.  Look at me with all this bread!  Wow, I must have done something really great to deserve all this!

He wants me to focus on Him, not on the bread.
 If I had a bakery's worth of bread, I might be a glutton.  No actually let me rephrase that.  If I prayed, "Lord, give me this day a week's worth of bread" and He provided it, it would NOT last the week.  I really like bread. Especially if it has cinnamon or raisins in it. Or both.  I would be hard pressed not to eat it all within a few days.  I would have bread bowls for soup, bread pudding, home-made croutons, bread and butter, bread and peanut butter, bread and bread and yeah, more bread.  With all that bread, it would be hard not to focus on well, all that bread.  So I pray for a day's worth of bread as a reminder to keep the bread in perspective.  It is a gift.  Enjoy it, but don't focus on it.

So...this "daily bread" is jam packed with spiritual nutrition:
Pray for what you need today and trust Me to provide for tomorrow.
Remember to thank Me for what I provide.
Don't focus on the provisions, focus on the Provider.

Wow, this one little line has so many powerful lessons about life!
All this thinking makes me hungry.  I think I'll go make some toast.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Church: Organism or Organization?

Church is...
A building with stained glass.
Money grubbing.
Full of do-gooders. Hyprocrites.
Crazy conservatives.
Or...A place I go every Sunday (but not joyfully.)

Ask a lot of people to describe the church and you may hear some of the above words.  I have never fallen asleep in church, but I can remember being bored in quite a few, especially as a teenager.  In fact, I recently found one of my old Bibles, one I used to carry around with me in junior high, and inside the front and back covers were notes my friends and I had written back and forth to eachother in the middle of church.  We wrote about friends a few pews away. Weekend plans. Check this box or that.  MASH.  I was obviously NOT paying attention to the sermon.
Maybe you remember this Sunday School song?
"I am the church.  You are the church.  We are the church together.  All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we're the church together.  The church is not a building.  The church is not a steeple.  The church is not a resting place.  The church is the people..."
And remember making that church steeple by intertwining your fingers and then bending back your hands to show your fingers, wiggling them when you sang the line "The church is the people..."?  Sunday School was fun.  Big people church - not so much. 
So what about church today?  Why don't people go to church?  A lot of reasons for sure, some listed above.
This morning, I heard Alistair Begg from Truthforlife.org say "The Church is an ORGANISM, not an ORGANIZATION."  Maybe this sums up the problem with churches today - we are more like organizations than we are organisms.
What's the difference?
Organisms are alive.  They are living, breathing life forms where all the parts work together for a common purpose.
An organization is a business; it has structure, is outlined with a mission, has employees, partners, financial needs, events and programs.
Sure, the church can be a little bit of both and certainly churches need financial support so they can pay those in ministry and have a place of worship (An aside: Do we REALLY have to have a Mega-church? Some churches are so gaudy, it makes me wonder about their priorities. Do we really need a church gym? A $10,000 metal cross? A Bose sound system? Anyway...)

Bottom line, the church, is US.  Christ lives in all of us as Christians.  Every where we go, if we love Christ, we are his church.  If people think church is boring, judgmental or hypocritical that means we, the people of Christ, have some work to do if we expect people to want to have anything to do with this life force, let alone show up on Sunday.  Our love, kindness and compassion needs to spread out into the world so people can form a new paradigm of what "church" means.  We are the church in our homes, at our places of work, in the community, wherever we are.  Coming together on Sundays as a group in our various places of worship is a blessing, but we shouldn't keep the blessing to ourselves or let the "organization" stifle the organism.  Are we more worried about "getting people to come to church" than we are about "getting people to come to Christ?"  Let's be a LIVING church - and take the inspiration, hope and love we receive from eachother in Christ out into our communities.  Let our love bring the world "back to life."  May our actions show others to the life force of the church, to what keeps us, the organism alive - Jesus.  Whether they join the organization is secondary.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Upward and Outward

Will I please God today? 

Will I focus upward and outward or inward and downward?
Will I be focused on loving God and serving others?
Or will I focus on me and serving my needs and desires?

Focusing on God (praising, praying, listening, seeking, reading his Word ) = UPWARD
Focusing on Others (loving, serving, helping, encouraging) = OUTWARD
Focusing on Me (wants, needs, desires, schedule, interests) = INWARD
Focusing on Myself (pride, arrogance, anger, selfishness, greed, jealousy) = DOWNWARD

Why is it so hard to live UPWARD AND OUTWARD?
My will fights against God's.  What I want competes against what God wants.
Fulfilled desires bring a fleeting, but powerful pleasure that call me back for more.
The very body I use to enjoy God's gifts, can enslave me.  (My eyes, taste buds, hands, minds...)
Often, I think my earthly needs (food, shelter, clothing) are my most important needs.  In fact, my most important need is to walk within God's will.  I should worry less about what shoes I will wear on the walk, whether my stomach will be full for the journey or my pillow soft enough.
Put simply...
Inward is easy. It comes naturally.  Me, Me, Me.
Downward is easy, too. Like a baby, I play with what is put right in front of me. Mine, Mine, Mine.
Upward is difficult. It requires me to look up and acknowledge my need of a Savior. You, You, You.
Outward is difficult.  It requires sacrifice, compassion & patience. Your's, Your's, Your's.

Upward, Outward Prayer
Lord, each morning, draw my view heavenward.
May I focus on you today, my Lord and Savior.
Change me, that I may be more like you. 
Help me to see those around me with your eyes
And may I serve them with your heart.