Tag Archives: God’s Kingdom

Volatile, Historic Times and the Spider Who Doesn’t Care

Righteous indignation on each side; blustery public diatribes backed by legal or biblical authority; verbal wars among foes and friends and family which take no idealogical prisoners—this seems to be the state of current events.

But this tiny spider doesn’t seem to know, or care. She’s not angry, or justified, or changing the color of her web to the rainbow.1 She doesn’t notice at all. The sun came up, she made her web, she’ll eat if bugs show up, and the sun will go down again when the day is through.

spider

Yet we struggle, we fight, we vehemently beat back opposing views.

Views. That’s what we’re fighting. Views. Opinions. Beliefs.

I am a person. I have my own views. I do not think it’s wise to equate the marriage between a man and woman with one between two people of the same gender. I do not think it needs to be illegal, but to me—my belief, my opinion, how I would choose—it would be wiser to proceed as God designed us to be.

(Please note: in this post, I’m not going to address any “how we are made” thoughts other than the obvious reproductive gender differences which I am referencing above. Of course there are so many other mental/emotional/chemical/physical factors.)

Since God has said that it is unnatural for a man to have sex with a man, or a woman to have sex with a woman;2 well, I believe him. He also said he hates divorce; so I plan to never choose that, no matter how much “sense” it might seem to make at some future time, or how much I might want it (to be clear, I do not want it now). He also said adultery is wrong, no matter how much it might seem like a good idea, or we might want it. Sex is for marriage, between one woman and one man—that is God’s best design. (And nothing else.)

It is not our place to condemn sin. (As Romans 2 says, then you’re just condemning yourself, too.) Sin is anything which takes the place of our reliance upon our Father. It’s often a counterfeit of the good he wants to give us. Sex is great, of course, in the context above. But every other form will harm us, or somehow harm our relationship with God, who is our Life.

It is not just homosexual sex, nor any other “great sin” our friends on the conservative right rail against which is sin. Nor is it neglect of the poor, or greed, or religious bigotry against which our more liberal friends crusade. There is so much sin. None of us is free from it, or immune from it. None of us has never sinned.

(Sidebar: if you have never read John 8, please take a moment to read it now. So enlightening.)

Now that I’ve shared my opinion on the matter, do you think I hate anyone wanting to marry someone of their own gender? Do you hate me for thinking that is not what God intended for them?

Of course I do not.

I do not hate anyone. Really. I don’t. I think I might be labeled as hating, though, because I believe some things (behaviors) are harmful, and wrong. (I think drinking pop is harmful and wrong… so maybe I’m not a good test case?)3

Difference of beliefs is not hate. It’s really, really not.

But let’s wrap this up with a return to my new friend, the spider.

As I ate my lunch, thoughts of all the discord and self-righteous banter, Facebook photos and links swirled through my mind. In that mental maelstrom, I felt noticeable peace. (Despite the noise of the traffic which passes our house most hours of the days.) I saw that very tiny spider, quiet and still on her web, swaying with the gentle breeze. I could imagine her saying, had she the voice, “What’s all the fuss about?”

I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but they are not worth a war of words. Certainly they do not justify hate in return for perceived hate. If someone thinks differently than you (so long as they are not actually harming another) then just let them. Just let them.

The world will go on. Until Jesus returns, there will be harm and good, pain and joy. Both coexist together.

I think the spider would say that we should, too.

  1. It is ironic, though, is it not, that there are rainbow-colored pinwheels in the background. 🙂
  2. Read Romans 1-2, especially Romans 2 if you are a Christian reading this.
  3. One more sidebar: I am currently reading a very interesting history of the Confederacy. The Story of the Confederacy was written in 1931 by Robert Selph Henry. Should I burn this literary work? It is not condemning the Confederate flag, nor its people. Rather, the author is hoping to present both sides of the story in our country’s history. It’s important. Does my interest in this mean I hate black people?

New Beginnings

sunrise

Do you notice that sometimes there are themes around you? I do. Every once in a while, many things around me (or even in me) will work in apparent concert toward some consistent message, idea, or theme.

Lately, I am being pretty often reminded that life is full of new beginnings.

And also that it is not.

For example, each day is a new start, each year—happy new year to you, reader!—and many other instances on the calendar or the clock provide us with a fresh beginning.

Today I marveled at sleep. Each night (for most) we shut down to regenerate. Our energy (and even our heart and mind) is replenished by an end of one day, and a preparation for the beginning of the next. Even within sleep there are cycles that our bodies go through, giving us the most effective, helpful rest to replenish us. Incredible.

A new home, a new business, even paying off debt and gaining new financial freedom—even in our own creations we find the recurring theme of a fresh start.

Some new beginnings are thrust upon us, contrary to anything we may have chosen, by accident, illness, or the will of others. Life can change in a moment—and never go back to how it was.

There are so many new beginnings, it seems to me that it is an essential part of God’s design.

Certainly not the suffering, or any evil, or the pain and brokenness of a fallen world, of the fallen us. But with so many examples around us of cycles of fresh starts and new beginnings, it must be a truth our Designer wants us to see.

Recently I have been noticing that I am no longer young. I don’t feel old, and I realize that compared to many, I do not qualify as aged. (I just spent time with my nearly-nonagenarian grandparents. They probably think I’m silly to talk about “not being young”.)

One recurring scene that reminds me that time has passed is young families. At the store, in photos of friends on social networking sites, at the public library—everywhere I see what I once was. I was them. My young wife and I, along with our younger (and fewer) children. We were those confident-yet-bewildered brand-new adults, feeling our way into what would become our life.

Sometimes—more often than you might think—I wish we could go back. I don’t want to really go back; who would? But I do wonder what it would be like to enjoy that newness again while keeping all the wisdom life has taught me through the experiences we’ve had since.

That is not the way of things.

Life always moves forward. We can’t—and shouldn’t—go back. And so God gives us new beginnings. Each day, each month, each year. And sometimes the new beginning happens at a moment of our choosing. When we choose to accept his new mercy this morning.

Those may sound like “just words” to you. When life thrusts a new beginning upon us, unwelcome, and unchangeable… we don’t want words. We want what we’ve lost. We want to undo the change.

I think God has reminders placed all around us—really, everywhere—that we would know that life moves forward, and he moves with us.

Maybe each time we remember that (and believe it), that is another new beginning. Which means we are perfectly, exactly where we’re meant to be.

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Real Power

jay_cutlerStrength.
Power.
Might.

Words that have impact, weight, gravitas. Vivid pictures of great force and ability prominently display on the screen of our minds. Big, overwhelming, unstoppable, unbreakable.

Powerful.

We love strength. We need it. The events of our lives remind us so often that we lack control, ability… power and strength.

And so we create heros who are strong. We even create villains in our various narratives who are equally strong—or stronger—and the irresistible draw of the story is that the hero, through whatever strength, power, ability he or she might muster, is able to overcome the impossible odds and defeat… overpower the enemy.

Because that is strength.

Right?

Well…

This week, my thoughts have remained on the idea of weakness versus strength. How can it be that our weakness, our brokenness, can be our strength? Inevitably I am drawn back to the foundational Truth that God himself is our only source of strength. The only source of Strength.

The trick is, he doesn’t always display his strength in the way we first think of strength.

I wrote about Strength In Weakness earlier this week. I shared recent reminders of how our weaknesses are not our downfall, but with God, they are a greater strength. We need him, and our weaknesses focus us—again, and again—on that essential reality.

And again my thoughts betray my true, fundamentally flawed thinking. Weakness is my inability, and strength is my ability. Strength to change things. Power to move, alter, overcome.

Perhaps this is not true strength at all?

Jesus told his friends that, “in this world, kings and great men ‘lord it over’ their people… But… you… will be different… the leader should be like the servant.”

And in the previous post, we remembered how Jesus even restrained his power all the way to an unjust execution. Arguably demonstrating more strength than an overpowering, awe-inspiring display of “power”.

I once heard the term “meekness” defined as strength under control. Is this evidence of greater power; greater strength? Yielding of available power. Sheathing the sword.

Too often we want Power to overcome, destroy the Foe. But more often, Power is demonstrated by restraint. By submission. By being the Servant.

Philippians 2

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

God speaks in a whisper. He was born a baby, in a barn, in a tiny Nowhere Town. He died the death of a criminal, without resistance.

His Power and Strength are far beyond what we can fathom, far different than we can comprehend.

Holding back your tongue is power. Holding your temper. Pulling punches. Turning the other cheek. Laying down your own rights, willingly, for another’s benefit. Without being asked to. These are some examples Jesus modeled; he who has true power.

When you next ask for a demonstration of his Power… it might turn out differently than you expect.

There is no doubt that all Power and Strength and Glory and Honor belong to him, and him alone. What that looks like, he continues to slowly reveal to me. You may have a clearer picture of it than I do, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below, or contact me directly.

But I know this—he is Power, and Strength. And my greatest ideas of Power pale in comparison to all that He is.

And the best part is, one of my favorite sections of scripture—a prayer for power and strength—talks about God’s immense power… to change me from the inside! How much more subtle can you get, but Paul says it’s beyond our imagination!

I leave you with Paul’s words. Be encouraged, in His Power.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Strength In Weakness

weakness

If you’ve spent any time around Jesus, you’ve probably noticed that he sees things backwards; upside-down. His vision of how the world operates is counter-intuitive, counter-culture, and counter- most all of our own natural bents.

Jesus took his backward thinking all the way to his own, un-protested execution.

He was silent before his accusers.1

Jesus knew that there is greater strength in restraint—even in weakness.

How can weakness be strength? Again, that’s more than paradox, that’s just… incorrect. At least, it is so according to conventional thinking. (Which we’ve already said is not Jesus’ basis for “the way things work”.)

“My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.”2

Power… is made perfect… in weakness. Words of the Father to Paul, who was begging him to remove something that “tormented” him.

But God said, No… trust me. Weakness is better.

Power is made perfect in weakness. A small flame can light a dark room. Things that we perceive as weak can be strong. But I don’t think that is the point.

In a strange sense, it does actually work. Think about it. If you’re giving everything you’ve got, all your strength and ability, that’s great—but it has its limits. Your limits. When you acquiesce to a power outside of yourself—greater than yourself—and relinquish any control you have (or think you have) … there is a strange, greater strength in that act alone.

We’re giving up control. We are allaying all fear of what might come—which we can’t control anyway—by steadfastly trusting in the goodness, strength, and deep, deep love of the Father… towards me. The strength is not my own; it’s His.

Jesus lived this. And he wants us to trust him, and his Father, and do the same.

These thoughts have been bubbling under the surface of many conversations and in things read and heard in the recent past. I think God is reminding me where Life and Strength are. And now, perhaps he’s reminding you, too.

Be strong… in your weakness.

In him.

  1. From Isaiah 53, and the gospel accounts.
  2. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Christians Being Christian

wwjdI am not very comfortable in “Christian” settings. For a long time now, I’ve said that I “don’t like Christians”, but that’s meant to be at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I know that Jesus is life, that there is no life outside of him; and for me, everything I do, and see, and experience runs through that filter.

I am also quite fond of others who see the world around us from that perspective: knowing the loving Creator Father who made it, and us, and Jesus whom he sent, and his Spirit in us. It’s wonderful spending time with others who share that same understanding, passion, and reality.

But I recently had a moment of clarity on this subject. It’s not Christians that make me feel uneasy, it’s being at any event or location where Christians are “being Christian”.

It’s that pretense, that front, that game playing … that is what gets me to put my own guard up, and, sadly, it’s why I usually try to avoid “Christian” events.

When the language becomes Christian, when certain behaviors are expected, beliefs—not in Jesus, but in the “traditions of man”, as Paul often labeled them—are silently presumed to be firmly held and agreed upon; this is when my stomach usually tightens into disquieted knots.

I love being with other believers, but if the reason for gathering is somehow labeled “Christian”, or all the participants know that they are there to “be Christian” … I think that’s where it starts to fall apart.

And the reason is that we are not supposed to BE CHRISTIAN.

We are supposed to love each other. Love God. Be loved. The things that we think mark us as believers are evidence of lives changed from within, by God himself. Not our own efforts at all. That’s so important.

It’s completely from, for, about, and through him.

So when we who live our lives wholly with Jesus are in a setting that is not specifically “his”, I find that those times are more relaxed. (As long as we’re not “being Christian” and condemning wrong behavior that is acceptably condemnable.)

This is part of the problem. “Being Christian” is often akin to thinking a certain way on various issues, behaviors, and doctrines. (This is why there are so many splinters of the church. Doctrinal spats create unending levels of division between believers.) Christians are against homosexuality and gay marriage; six-day creationism versus evolution (and every other theory of our origins); taking God, prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Bible out of public arenas like schools and other government buildings; and many Christians hold strong views about politics that they tie to their “Christianity”.

How do any of these things make us “Christian”? In what way do they distinguish us as followers of Jesus? How are we like him by conforming to these standards?

Jesus prayed for us. Did you know that? Right before he went to the cross, John records the words he prayed. He prayed for the people he was with, and he prayed for us. Listen:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”1

To Jesus, our unity was paramount. We in him, he in his Father, Father in him, he in us. That we as believers—centuries and millennia in the future—would be visibly, notably united was foremost in his heart and mind as he faced death on the cross.

Jesus’ unity was not just a doctrinal thing. He spent time with people who may have disagreed with him. He certainly spent time with some who were different from him. He was usually chastised in regards to whom he chose to spend his time with.

He was not “being Christian” at “Christian” gatherings.

Why can’t we just be together, and enjoy each other, and share the variety and diversity of our lives and selves together, with no need for judging, condemning, conforming, reforming, or any other manipulation of each other; whether directly or by inference?

I don’t know. But that’s why I don’t enjoy Christian gatherings. It’s a bunch of Christians being Christian.

We are most like Jesus when we love, accept, offer grace and truth together—which I think is much less common practice than many Christians admit—and truly love people who most need loving.

Which is all of us.

I don’t want to be a Christian. I want Jesus to live his love through me. (Just as he prayed for us above.) I want to be so close to him that people recognize his scent on me. Not through any of my own strength, or practice, or perfecting… just the work he is doing in me. It’s not at all about me. Only him. And you.

If we all live like that, being together with Christians who are truly “being Christian” would be the most amazing place on earth.

Because HE is embodied in us. (We’re not trying to be his body.)

Oh man. That would be spectacular.

We just have to stop trying, and let him change us. Stop being Christian. Be loved. And Christ will be in you.

Amen.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Jesus+Nothing=EverythingA good friend of ours read a book a while ago and thought that I might enjoy it, too. She was right.

What I most enjoyed about this book was it’s emphatic emphasis (is that a thing?) on the singular fullness of Jesus. (Which, I’m sure you already gleaned from the title.)

The concept is, nothing we can add to who Jesus is, and what he has already done, will in anyway add to or enhance our lives, our existence. And, in a slight bending of the commutative property of addition, he asserts that removing Jesus from everything, leaves us with nothing. (That was for my kids, who do not hold much love for math…)

Here’s a quote from early in the book:

God seemed bigger to me than ever, when I’d never been so small.

When you actually feel like you have nothing, Jesus becomes more to you than you ever could have hoped or imagined.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

The gospel became for me more than a theological passion more than a cognitive catch-phrase it became my functional lifeline.

Rediscovering the gospel enabled me to see that:

Because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak.
Because Jesus won for me, I was free to lose.
Because Jesus was someone, I was free to be no one.
Because Jesus was extraordinary, I was free to be ordinary.
Because Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail.

At a very difficult time in his life, the emphasis of the author’s real, tangible life became completely focused on who Jesus is, what Jesus does for him… and the reality of its completion and accessibility to him. And to us.

The gospel erases us, in [a] sense, which is why we avoid it. But that erasing of self is the key to our freedom.

The gospel doesn’t take you deeper into yourself; the gospel takes you away from yourself. That’s why Paul reminds the Colossians (and us), “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:3) The gospel frees us to realize that, while we matter, we’re not the point.

Jesus is the point.

We who call ourselves Christians certainly already realize this. But it is not often realized in our lives. The days we live. The hopes we have, challenges we face, thoughts we think. We do not live in the fullness and reality of the gospel: that God so loved [all of us] that he took on skin and defeated sin and death, that we might know eternal life. In Him. And then the “Christian life” flows from knowing, accepting, and living that.

At one point the author proclaims a “hatred” for ‘accountability groups’ because of their incorrect focus. Christianity tends to focus on behavior, and inward attempts to change. But the change only comes from Jesus’ work in us. Once on the cross, and ongoing as we walk with him.

He says this about how we can encourage one another as we live our lives in step with the Spirit:

So, instead of trying to fix on another, why don’t we “stir one another up to love and good deeds” by daily reminding one another, in humble love, of the riches we already possess in Christ? ….

Our greatest need is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves, because the gospel is not our work for Jesus, but Jesus’s work for us.

The truth that this book presents is that we have everything we need in Jesus. Period. The end. Nothing more is needed. Anything else just gets in the way, and takes our focus off of the Life source: Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 comes to mind.)

Today, if you are weary, or burdened, or feel as though you are missing something… please look to Jesus. He is already there, with you, waiting for you to cease your struggle and simply follow him. Trust him.

If those are just words, please ask Him to show you how to experience them. There is no life without him. Everything minus Jesus is nothing.

But, as Tchividjian says (I just wanted to get his name in here! It’s pretty crazy!):

Jesus, plus nothing, equals everything.

And in that, we are free.

There Is No Sin In Him

Buckle up, pardners… this may get a little heretical. (Just warnin’ ya!)

jesus-writing-in-the-sandIn many places within the pages of the Bible we read that Jesus was without sin. He who had no sin became sin for us… He is the spotless lamb… He faced all the same temptations we do, but he did not sin.

And on the one hand, that makes sense: Jesus is God. So… duh! Of course he can’t sin!

But, on the other hand—the hand that is WAY beyond our limited understanding—Jesus also emptied himself of all his divine nature (Philippians 2), and lived fully as a man. This makes the strength of the words in the book of Hebrews even more meaningful (Jesus was tempted in every way, yet was without sin) because James reminds us that “God can not be tempted to do wrong” (1:13), and so Jesus faced temptations fully as a man, but he somehow succeeded in remaining sinless.

I’ve been wondering what that means.

Did Jesus just keep all the rules? How? If he was fully human, doesn’t that mean he would fall under the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” proclamation by Paul in Romans, which leads to death as a result? Well, Jesus did in fact pay that penalty—and he did for all of us, defeating death in the process! But he did not die for his own sin, according to scripture, but for the sins of all of us.

Many times in the accounts of Jesus life we read accusations of wrongdoing. The religious leaders, the teachers of religious law, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and any who thought that keeping the rules was paramount to a godly life, these people would accuse Jesus and his followers of all sorts of rule-breaking. Jesus generally turned it back on them by saying things like, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath,” and:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” 1

The more important things. Hmm…

What I’ve been wondering is, what did Jesus’ sinlessness look like? Does it mean that as a boy he never disobeyed his parents? Does it mean that he always did the right thing every time, always? Maybe. But does it have to? In a religious sense, it probably does. But what did Jesus tell us were “the more important things”?

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” 2

My two oldest sons and I just finished reading through 1 John together, and the resounding themes John clearly wanted to share with the church to whom he wrote were: trust God (and his love), and love each other. There was a third theme of confessing (admitting) your sin, and by abiding in Jesus, whose spirit lives within us, moving past sin that leads to death. (For another day, John also mentioned “sins that do not lead to death”, which I found fascinating. Again… for another day.)

Love. Be loved, and love.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us. We love each other because he loved us first. 3

Could it be that Jesus’ sinless life looks a lot different than just doing all the right things, and especially NOT doing the wrong things?

John said in his letter, “[we must] believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded.” Love is never wrong. But it might break the rules, no? At least, in this broken, sinful, glass-darkly kind of world.

I’m not saying Jesus was a ‘filthy sinner’. Of course not. But I am considering again what “sin” looks like, and so, what his sinlessness looked like.

What do you think? Is Jesus a halo-wearing, robed, sandaled guy who is distant, and sort of meaningless? Or is he the most caring, wise, discerning, honest, truthful, loving person who ever lived? (And, Easter Sunday reminds us—he still does!)

Many times we Christians focus so much on the rule-keeping, and rule-not-breaking, that we miss the “more important things”. Let’s remember this weekend, as we commemorate the cross on Good Friday, and Jesus’ victory over death on Resurrection Sunday, that all we are called to do is to know we are loved, and trust that love (confirmed by Jesus’ spirit living in us), which empowers us to love the ones God has placed us near.

Be loved, trust, and—in God’s power—love.

Perhaps that is what sinless looks like?


Please note… I do not in any way intend to diminish Jesus, nor elevate me nor any other fellow follower, nor anyone really, by any of my thoughts presented in this post. Perhaps the words caused you to ponder, as they have done for me, or, even better, stirred you to remember and live “the more important things” in this day, and every day. Grace and peace to you.