the death of a son

1

Category : Jesus

Could you kill your own son if God asked you to?  That’s the question Abraham wrestled with as he climbed a mountain with his son.

In most of the Old Testament God speaks with two meaning.  On one level he talks to the people of the time.   He’s literally giving a specific message to Abraham or Adam and Eve.  He is literally saying that Abraham will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) or that Adam and Eve’s son will kill the snakes they find near their homes (Genesis 3: 14-16).

However, on another level God is speaking to future generations.  He’s preparing us to recognize Jesus when he comes.  To understand who he is, and why he is important.  For instance, the family blessing in Genesis doesn’t just mean Abraham’s family.  It also means the blessings that will come from Jesus (who was a descendent of Abraham).  And it’s not Adam and Eve’s immediate family that will be at war with the snake.  Jesus will also crush the serpent under his heel by dying on the cross.

Wherever you look in the Old Testament God is planting the seeds of Jesus’ arrival.

That’s what’s so remarkable about the story of Abraham and Isaac.  To us this is so scandalous, so offensive, that we don’t even want to believe that it’s a true story.  But back in Abraham’s time, child sacrifice was common.  Children weren’t seen as something to be treasured.  And if a god required a sacrifice?  So be it.

But as we read into the story we see that duality of meaning.

We first see it as Abraham is heading up the mountain; he places “the wood for the burnt offering” on his son.  What other son carried wood on his back?  Jesus, in the form of the cross.

Next we see it as Isaac, while carrying the wood, asks one question, “Father?…The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22: 7)

Where is the lamb?

That’s a good question.  In fact it’s the only thing Isaac says on that journey.  To the reader, it seems as if Isaac has foreshadowed his own death.  But Isaac is not the lamb.  God spares Isaac from being sacrificed (God provides a ram.)

Although Isaac’s life is spared, his question is never answered.  In fact, his question lingers for the next few thousand years until Jesus comes onto the scene.  Jesus is that lamb that God would provide.  Jesus takes the hit that you and I (and Isaac and Abraham) deserve.  God saved us, just as he saved a boy from being sacrificed.  But it came at a great cost…

photo provided by flickr user Scootie

bargaining with God

Category : God, faith, hope, taking action

My day started with being honked at.  Apparently I had committed the horrific act of coming to a stop at the end of my driveway.

I can only assume that they were honking as a “warning” to let me know that they were coming down the road.  However, it’s possible they were just cranky.  But this was not a good way to start out my day.  Few things get under my skin as quickly as bad drivers.  Since I wrote, “love your enemy and fellow drivers” I have tried to take a different approach to bad drivers.  But it’s never easy.

As I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I need to stay calm, I followed this driver down the street.  Before long we came to a stop sign.  Of course we all know that a stop sign requires that we come to a “complete and full stop.”  Well this driver rolled right through it.  She barely slowed down.

That’s when I realized what had happened.  She had assumed that since she didn’t stop at intersections, I wouldn’t either.  Psychologists call this “projection.”  It’s the very simple idea that we project what we’re feeling and doing onto other people.  (This is why someone who is a compulsive liar always assumes everyone else is lying.)  She was honking because if our roles were reversed, she would have cut me off.

The sad thing is we do this with God all the time.  We project our own views, beliefs, and motives on him.  If you’ve ever tried to bargain with God, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  When we find ourselves in need of help, instead of just asking, we pray things like, “God if you just help me out now, I promise to give up drinking.”  Or “God, if you heal my kid, I will go to church every week.”

This is a very natural reaction.  It’s what we do with our families.  We tell our kids, “if you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert.”  Or we tell our employees, “if you put in extra hours, then you can have a raise.”  We even bargain with ourselves, “if I go the gym tonight, I can have a piece of cake tomorrow.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bargaining.  Even God says some things are based on our behavior: “to those who are faithful in the small things, more things will be given.”  But when it comes to God’s love and mercy, we can’t bargain for that.  God doesn’t hold out on us until we earn enough credit.  We can’t be good enough to earn our way into his favor.  There’s nothing we have that we can offer to God in some kind of exchange.  It’s not like God has much need of your collection of baseball cards or your money.  Bargaining with God is not only theologically wrong, it doesn’t even make sense!

Instead we need to learn to receive God.  To accept his love, without any strings attached.   God’s love is absolute.   It is unconditional.  He’s not like you and I.  He’s truly radical and revolutionary.  And so is his behavior.

How do you add more to that?

photo provided by flickr user Nate Larimer

God’s sovereign reign

Category : God, bible, faith, sin

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “God’s sovereign reign.”  I can’t stand it when people start using that phrase.  Now I believe that God is in control.  And I believe that he’s the boss (not Tony Danza).  So in theory I have nothing against this phrase.  The problem is, when someone says, “God’s sovereign reign” what they really mean is “God just caused that bad thing to happen.”

This is their way of saying, “well God’s in control, so he must have a plan for wiping out all those people in a flood.”  Some people even go so far as to say that God has predetermined who is going to heaven and hell.  Predetermined as in “before you were even born.”

But I don’t buy any of that.

Why?  Because if it was “God’s sovereign plan” for disaster to strike and suffering to occur, why is God so upset?  You don’t see architects bemoaning the fact that their building is being built according to the blueprints.  You don’t see parents upset when their children are listening to their commands.

You see people upset when things aren’t working out.  When things don’t go according to plan.

Now it’s possible that I’m just not seeing the big picture.  That there’s something more going on behind the scenes that I just don’t have access too.  That was kind of the point of Job.

But for the vast majority of disasters I don’t think God is lurking in the shadows waiting to strike you down with cancer or unleashing tsunamis to destroy unrepentant villages.

Frankly I think all the disasters and suffering is a result of sin.  And sin is entirely outside of God’s plan.  God never wanted Adam & Eve to sin.  And he doesn’t want us to sin.  If sin was part of his plan, why did Jesus need to die sinless?  Which, of course, he did.

God is so brilliant at adjusting to our stupidity that it makes it look like it’s all part of his plan.  But God never wanted you to suffer.  God never wanted you to feel brokenness.  That was never part of his plan.   So don’t let someone tell you otherwise.

the death of a friend

Category : God, Jesus, faith, live for the eternal, living a life of faith

A friend died.  Although I never knew him.

One of the things I keep coming back to is God’s way of weaving lives together.  I have for the last few years taught a course called “Welcome to the Revolution” at my local church.  My friend was in this class.  He was the type of person who, if you saw on a dark street corner, you’d change sides.  He was gruff.  With a gravelly voice.  And a violent past.  His tattoos revealed the fact that he was both angry and violent.

I remember the first time I saw him in church.  I didn’t consciously think much about it, but I recall thinking he was someone that didn’t “fit” in with the church.  He just stood out, and I thought, “man, I’d hate to upset him.”

I saw him a few weeks later getting baptized.

And then a few weeks later he was in my class.

He was still gruff.  Had a gravelly voice.  His tattoos still screamed at me.  He was also hard to look at.  Not because of the way he looked, but because of the intensity of God’s light that shone through him.  When I looked at him, I could see Jesus staring back at me.  And I realized that everything I had thought about him was wrong.  He wasn’t the guy who you’d cross the street to avoid.  He was the guy who would throw down to protect you.  He was an artist, who was thoughtful enough to hand draw me a Christmas card.

Of course he wasn’t always that way.  As we got to know each other I learned about his dark past.  The violence.  The substance abuse.  The pain.

But I also learned how Jesus had changed him.  I learned just how much God could redeem us.  What I saw was a new man, who was so intensely bathed in his relationship with God that it was hard to look at him, because it reminded me of just how far I have to go.

As the teacher you think you’re supposed to have all the answers.  That you’re supposed to have everything “under control.”  But God has a way of shattering those illusions.

I will be forever grateful to Bertie for shattering my illusions.  In every way that counted he was the teacher and I was the student.

You will be missed Bertie.  You, in the few short weeks I knew you, were as much of a friend to me as anyone I’ve known.  But you are with Jesus now.  I know because I’ve seen Jesus through you.  And one day, we will be together again.  And maybe that time, we’ll have the chance to become better friends.

the waste of faith

Category : God, barbarian, bible, miracles, trust

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Every year my church does a crazy Christmas show.  This is a full out, laser-snow-machine-giant-screen-booming-bass show.  It even has 50 foot tall battle-hardened angels.  In fact, it’s one of the best produced (and written) show’s I’ve ever seen.

But almost every year I hear someone complain that it’s “over the top” or “too expensive”.  Some even wonder “why go to all that trouble?”

I understand their points.  Part of me even agrees with those thoughts.   I don’t know how much money is spent on free coffee, free hot chocolate, free cookies but my guess is over the course of two weeks it probably runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Shouldn’t we be better stewards of God’s things?  Doesn’t God want us to cut out the waste?

Frankly, no.

Because what we are doing isn’t wasteful.  It draws somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people every year.  That’s a lot of people to connect with God.  Many of them are making that connection for the first time.

All of this has been running through my mind as I’ve been reading the “minor prophets” in the Old Testament.  As I’ve been reading I’ve noticed (for the first time) just how many crazy, outlandish, unnecessary things God calls prophets to do.

He calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  He had Jonah swallowed by a big fish (although that was more because Jonah wasn’t cooperating than anything else).  He asked Ezekiel to lay on his side for more than a year.

I am sure that some people, even today, would say that those things were a bit ridiculous.  “Come on!  A whale?  Can we really afford something as big as a whale?  What about something more the size of a large tuna?  Or maybe a mackerel?”

That was a problem even with Jesus.  Some people saw his ministry as too extravagant.  Too relaxed.  And so he was labeled a glutton and a drunkard.

You know why these aren’t unnecessary?  Because God is willing to do anything, short of sin, to bring us into a relationship with him.  He asked these prophets to do these crazy things so that their actions would cut through the cultural noise of their days.  Sometimes the way to get someone’s attention is to go bigger, louder, and badder.  And sometimes

Do you really think God has suddenly stopped trying to connect with us in any way possible?

Now I’m obviously not advocating waste.  But I am advocating crazy generosity.  I just hope God doesn’t ask me to shave my head.

what to do when you make a mistake

Category : Paul, bible, failure, faith, sin, taking action

……….

What do you do when you make a mistake?

That’s a question I think very few people actually think about.  Oh sure we all do something when we’ve made a mistake.  But very few of us actually think through our actions, we usually just react.

The way I see it, there are only a few options.

  1. Do nothing – we essentially say, “I did something wrong and I am so scared of doing it again, and so scared of the consequences, I will never do anything again.”  When we do nothing, we shut down.  We can’t be used by God because we aren’t interested in being used by God.  We become like the ostrich who shoves his head in the sand, thinking he is hiding.
  2. Do the same thing – we make a mistake, but choose to do the same thing over and over.  This is the whole, “I am sorry I hurt you/ was a jerk, etc…” line.  And then the next day you’re back to your old habits.  We say it, and maybe in the moment we are sorry.  But not sorry enough to actually change.  This is where we are when we continue to commit one of our “favorite” sins  (for instance, you repeatedly get angry at a coworker).
  3. Repent - True repentance.  This is where we truly turn to God and say, “I am sorry, help me never to do this again.”  Where we fully turn away from our actions and embrace God.

Why do I bring all this up?  Because Carrie Prejean, a former Miss USA winner is involved in another controversy.  It turns out she was involved in making a “sex tape.”

For some celebrities this wouldn’t be a big deal.  Society often seems to reward people who do this.  We’ve all read the stories about a celebrity “losing” provocative pictures in a PR attempt to revitalize a career.  But for Prejean, who has started teaching and talking about “family values” this is a big issue.

Rarely do we talk about current events on R3.  I believe that the Bible offers us timeless principles that apply no matter the event.  And I almost never talk about a specific individual.  There’s enough gossip and junk out there, we don’t need to add to that.  But sometimes I make exceptions.  And that’s where I am with this.

I have no idea what’s on the tape.  I don’t know why it was made.  And frankly I don’t want to know.  To me that’s irrelevant.  What matters is how Prejean decides to act.  And to a lesser extent how we, as a society, respond.

We all have made mistakes.  How many of us would really feel comfortable having our mistakes be national news?  What Carrie Prejean did was wrong, and it was a mistake, and that’s not an excuse.  But does this prevent her from ever talking about family values?  There are many people who very much want that to be the case.  (As I was flipping the channels late one night I saw one panel of “experts” gleefully declaring this meant she could no longer talk about family values.)

Personally I don’t know if this tape excludes her from talking about family values.  I know there are a lot of people who are gleefully hoping that will be the case.  For her to fall, would be a major victory for them.  This situation brings legitimate questions that she must answer.  But when I look at the Bible I see people who aren’t perfect.  I see people lose their temper, act in fear, commit adultery and murder.

Yet God still uses them in powerful ways.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. But he does ask us to repent.

Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament was actively seeking to kill Christians prior to his conversion.  Does that mean he can’t talk about sin?  Or does it mean he has unique insight into the redemption that Christ offers?  Moses murdered someone before God chose him to become the leader of Israel.  Did that exclude him from talking about freedom to Pharaoh?  Peter acted in both anger and fear in the last hours of Jesus’ life – but God used him as the rock upon which the church was built.  Was God wrong in all of this?

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect.  But he does ask us to repent.  And in each of these cases, they repented and turned away from their sins.  So I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

Carrie has the same three options that we do.  She can do nothing.  She can do the same thing.  Or she can repent.

I don’t know what she plans to do.  Right now it sounds like she wants to repent.  But saying you want to repent and actually repenting can be two different things.  It’s much easier to offer false promises than to take the hard work of repentance.  Is it any different for us?  So again, I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

politics and faith

Category : God, Jeremiah, barbarian, different, faith, hope, living a life of faith, trust

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Election day.  There may not be any other day that so many Americans get worked up and angry over.  Besides the obvious Sunday of football.  While some people say that elections are becoming more “vicious” and “partisan”, I think they’ve always been that way.  Last time I checked there haven’t been any pistol duels in Washington recently.

Politics can be exciting.  A lot can ride on an election.  We’ve seen this in the last few elections.  About a third of the country despised the direction of the USA under George Bush.  Now about a third of the country despises the direction of the USA under Obama.  We seem to be evenly balanced in our dislike of political trends.

So if there is so much tension, anger and animosity, why do we get so worked up about politics?

For some elections and politics represent the hope of change.  That’s what Obama campaigned on.  Although he wasn’t the first, he might have been the best at it.  For others it represents the continuation of the status quo. Their party gets to stay in power.  They get to call the shots.

Ultimately it boils down to one fact: elections can have profound consequences.

So what does this mean for someone who believes in God?  How do politics and faith mesh?  Especially when you are living out a life of faith?  I wish I had an answer for you.  I don’t know how you balance the two.  I don’t know if people of faith should be involved in politics.  I don’t know if they should stay out of politics.  There are certainly disadvantages to both choices.  And there are compelling reasons to do either.

But what I do know is God warns us to be careful of believing too much in human-only solutions.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 17: 5)

For many believers I think politics has taken on a primary importance because at their core, they don’t fully trust that God is in charge.  They aren’t quite on board with believing that God really is acting.  I recognize that paints with a broad brush.  I know many Christians who are fully on board with God’s plans.  But I also know many people who don’t know what it means to submit to God and trust him.  And there are some days I can’t fault them for that.  When we hear news of disaster, rape, murder, or other horrific things, it’s easy to wonder exactly how all this fits into some kind of “plan.”

God, though, is very clear on this.  We need to trust him in all circumstances.  Not just when things are running smoothly.  That’s the point of the book of Job.  Job needed to trust God, not because Job’s life was good, but because God is, well, God.

God hammers this point home to Jeremiah too.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17: 7-8)

Jeremiah’s mission was to deliver a message of destruction and punishment to his country.  That’s not easy sailing.  But God reminds him – don’t place your trust in the human solution.  Place your trust in my solution.

Whatever your politics, if you are a believer than it is your responsibility to put your trust in God, not in elections.  Elections can be important.  God may even want you to be involved.  But never at the expense of your first allegiance: to the Kingdom.

healing a broken heart

1

Category : God, Romans, different, faith, hope, shame, trust

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My girlfriend has the most annoying cat known to man.  This is the type of cat who the minute you sit down jumps into your lap.  He’s the type of cat who can’t go five minutes without craving attention.  He’s the type of cat you almost always step on, because he’d rather be under foot (literally) than in another room.  I have never seen a cat who wants more human interaction.

We often joke that he’s “broken.”

But the sad reality is, he is broken.  He is what is sometimes called a “rescue cat.”  That’s a cat who was mistreated and been removed from a home.  In Ben’s case, he was abused as a kitten.  Mistreated in cruel ways.  And because of that he’s developed an unhealthy need for attention.

So what does Ben have to do with living out a life of faith?  Simple.  That cat is a reflection of many of us.

Many of us walk around broken.  We carry the wounds of abuse, sexual assault, cruelty and vindictiveness.  We are weighed down by those horrible acts.  And in response we turn to unhealthy fixations.  We may crave attention.  Crave validation.  Crave sex, drugs, or alcohol.  Anything to make the pain stop.  Even for a moment.

Yet we have something that Ben, the cat, can never experience.  We have a redeeming God who is actively trying to rework our lives to bring in new meaning.  We no longer have to be confined by our pain.  We can be set free.

Sometimes people will say, “all things work for good for those who believe.“  And they take that to mean that everything, no matter how horrible is God’s will.

It isn’t.

God doesn’t want you to suffer any more than he wants that Ben (the cat) to suffer.

What that phrase really means is that God can take your suffering and change the meaning.  Your pain can be used for something other than bondage.  It can be used as a platform for healing and growth.  I once heard Wess Stafford, President and CEO of Compassion International, speak.  He shared his experience of torture and abuse at the hands of people his parents trusted to take care of him.  How do you overcome that horror?

The truth is, on your own you can’t.  On your own you end up like Ben.  Broken.  But with God’s help, Wess’ story is one of redemption.  One of hope.  It’s about God being bigger than the most terrifying things in the world.  It’s about God redeeming a moment, and using it to touch millions of kids around the world.

That’s what that verse means.  That’s what it means when all things work for good.

We don’t have to remain broken.  We can ask God to redeem us, to change the meaning of our pain.  And you know what?  He will.

blessed are those who mourn

Category : Jesus, Matthew, bible, faith, hope

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In the history of R3 I don’t think I’ve ever gone close to two weeks without a “serious” post.  In fact it’s rare that I miss a single post during the week.  But such was the case for the last two weeks.  What I thought was going to keep me down for a few days turned out to floor me for nearly a week.

When I get sick I usually go in a very set pattern, and it lasts just about 3 days.  This time it was different.  In fact, even though it’s been 15 days since I first got sick, I’m still not feeling 100%.  This is near record territory for those of you scoring at home.  But in the course of all that something interesting happened – I was reminded how grateful I am for my health.  Most days I don’t give my health a second thought.  And I never really think about how lucky I am not to have any health issues.  But these last two weeks have given me many opportunities to do just that.

Sometimes the Bible says some pretty crazy things.  For instance, Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  I’m not even sure I really understand what that means.  At least not fully.  To be honest I don’t even want to think about that!  I don’t want to be blessed because I’m mourning.  I want to be blessed because I have a nice car and a nice house.  I want to be blessed because my life is easy!

Yet after being sick I can see how mourning leads to being blessed.

When we suffer we face a choice.  We can become bitter and angry, and that suffering holds us in place.  How many movie villains have their origin in just such a scenario?  How many of us have our identities rooted in pain?  Our other choice is to not let suffering control us.  It’s a chance to embrace mourning as part of a natural healing process.  It’s an opportunity to try and learn something from mourning.  Even if all we learn is that we need more of God.

Because I went through a time of “suffering” I now more fully appreciate what it means to be healthy.  Without losing my health, I never would have really understand what it meant to be healthy in the first place.  Sure, in the big scheme of things this wasn’t catastrophic.  But you don’t always need to have a catastrophe to learn from God.

I think this type of knowledge was what Jesus was driving at.  God’s Kingdom is often upside-down.   And this is just one more example.  Jesus knew that.  He knew that suffering can lead to appreciation.  Which is why he tells us such a counter-intuitive thing.  Maybe we should all embrace our mourning instead of trying to run from it.  Maybe it’s true, “blessed are those who mourn. “

Jesus keeps his promise his way

Category : Jesus, different, faith, hope, prayer, trust

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One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to trust in the promises of God.  We want to throw our own promises into the mix.  When we read that God gives us freedom, we think, “well that must mean I can retire with a six figure salary.”  When we hear Jesus say that we will be blessed, we think, “that’s great, that must mean I will have an easy life.”

Yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these things don’t always happen.  Is it any surprise that we become quickly disillusioned when our prayers “aren’t answered”?

I grew up believing in the religious “check box god.”  This was a god who would reward you if you just managed to get enough points or answer the questions correctly.  As long as you could do that it didn’t matter what was in your heart or how you lived your life.  Avoiding making a “big” mistake was all that mattered.  And of course “big” was defined as any mistake you hadn’t made before.

But that’s not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus keeps his promises his way.  We can’t allow ourselves to insert our promises and call them God’s.  It doesn’t work that way.

I was reminded of this in my daily blog reading.  Jim Hamilton a pastor and professor discussed his experience with starting a church.

Sunday after Sunday, month after month, the same four families and a few singles gathered for worship at Baptist Church of the Redeemer.  As this happened, the Lord slowly disabused me of the notion that the church was going to grow because of me.  It hurts to have your pride molded into humility, but it feels good, too, and how liberating!  Not to mention the way others prefer humility to pride.

Through this experience, I learned that Jesus keeps His promise to build His church.  I learned the power of the Word of God.  And I learned – or made progress in learning – to love people.

As I’ve been out of work for 9 months now, I can’t even tell you how many times I have let my assumptions become what I thought was a promise from God.  And it was in those moments that I’ve been most tempted to turn away from him.  But Jesus keeps his promises.  He’s never let me down.  I just need to trust that his promises will be kept in his way, not mine.