Give A Gift That Defies Our Differences

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God Got Me All Worked Up And Whatnot

All I did was throw a rock at a cat.

If they have nine lives, what’s the harm in that?

Next thing I know a door busts open and an irate friend to felines (possibly the owner) starts stringing profanities together like popcorn on a Christmas tree. They weren’t just cussing up a storm, it was a hurricane.

Taking my cues from the cat, I darted away from their verbal stones back home to the amnesty of my great grandmother’s house.

Somewhere in between panic, fear, thrill, and exhaustion an image of God began to form in my partial subconscious. For some reason I associated Him with a furious cat lover, ready to berate me over any unwise rock thrown, sin entanglement, or chronic failure.

The ole uptight grandpappy in the clouds who loves tossing lightning bolts to pass the time.

I had a walking-on-eggshells-faith for the longest time. Stressing over every shortcoming, anxious that he lurked around the corner ready to flatten me with a divine Donkey Kong hammer.

It wasn’t until I was 19 that I began the slow process of discarding this ill-suited idea for more accurate attributes that actually make me more nervous than before.

Mystery

We’ll never know God completely. Who knows, maybe we will beyond this life, but for now, it’s an impossibility. The mystery of God leaves room for surprises all the time. Like how someone comes to discover God, and place their life in His hands. Personally, I have my own handful of people’s stories where God used jaw-dropping means to lead them to Himself. His mystery defies our certainties.

And this freaks me out.

It also constantly reminds me to keep my eyes open for the many ways God is working all around us. God never, “shows up,” we’re the ones who, “wake up,” to the fact that He’s always present and active in and around us. Jesus used a great metaphor to accentuate this reality,

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Jesus showed us a good deal of God, but not the whole deal. There’s more to be discovered, realized, and explored.

God may just have a few things up His sleeve Himself.

Spirit

The Holy Spirit was treated like an estranged uncle at family reunions in my church growing up. “Spiritual gifts” were emphasized, but works of the spirit we’re bound, gagged, and locked away in the janitor’s closet.

Whether for fear of the unknown or the uncomfortable, miracles have been downplayed with great severity. There’s a great deal of really unbelievable stuff about the Spirit of God doing and working and empowering people to become channels of the unexpected and impossible. But because we’re scared (I’m scared) and uncertain, it lies dormant waiting to resurrect, liberate, clarify, enable, and enlighten us.

Living in tune with the movement of God helps me make some sense of of what the Spirit is doing in our midst. Like tuning a guitar to find the right note, some things feel out of tune, while others resonate with our souls and feel like bringing heaven to earth.

Grace

This one takes my breath away. I have the image of a leash that allows us to go as far as we desire while still keeping a steady hand. And if the cord should break it offers a hand to lift us back on our feet.

And it’s better than that.

And scarier.

It offers us a second chance. A second second chance. A second second second chance. Another chance until we die.

God’s grace enters our mess with a smile on it’s face and determination in it’s heart, dead set on leading us out, but it won’t force us to follow.

It takes away the pressure from having to earn, achieve, perform, attain, or compete for God’s love, affection, favor, and forgiveness. It counter balances our cruelty and conceit with kindness and generosity. A benevolent friend who welcomes us home as if we never ran away.

It bleeds and dies knowing that it will be abused, debased, and misconstrued, because that’s it’s nature and what makes it so powerful in the lives of those who embrace it. Removing the pheramaldahyde our hearts sit in so they beat with grace and goodness and truth and beauty.

It’s unfair and unbiased.

Grace gives God edge, and makes Him a little more wild than we care to admit sometimes.

Which makes it fought over, diluted, and added to.

Which makes us a nervous wreak.

But grace will wait patiently until we’re ready to receive what we can’t attain ourselves.

And maybe we’ll find out how threatening it really is as we allow the Spirit to lead us further into the mystery.

If I Wrote the Bible

If I wrote the Bible this is what a couple well known references would sound like:

“For Todd loved those who liked him, and laughed at his jokes, and were attractive, and had lot of money, and who were popular so he gave them an invitation to his birthday party.” {John 3:16}

“In the beginning Todd hit the snooze button and brushed off creation until another day.” {Genesis 1:1}

“If Todd was the good shepherd, we all would be lost…” {Psalm 23}

“Our Father in heaven, slip a rolex under the tree, for me. I’ve been a awful good guy. A ’65 Convertible too, steel blue. I want a yacht, and really that’s no a lot. I’ve been a sweetie all year. One thing I really do need, the deed to a platinum mine. Sorry, I forgot to mention one thing, cha-ching. Oh yeah, and help people too.” {The Lord’s Prayer via Michael Buble}

“Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female–except for dogs and cats, or any animal for that matter that could be made a household pet–came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth. {Genesis 7:6-10}

“For it is by good works, and approval ratings, and opinion polls, and reputation, and bank account, and accomplishments, and trophies, and the number of prefixes before your name, and how much you can bench, and the kind of car you drive, and the brand of clothes that you wear, and if you have an iPhone that you are saved. A little faith never hurt anybody, I guess. God is impressed with impressive people. The rest of yous will be overlooked.” {Ephesians 2:8-9}

“Therefore I tell you, worry about your life–what others think of you, how you look, what people might be saying about you at this very moment, petty stuff too–seriously, freak out about everything, including what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” {Matthew 6:25}

If I wrote the Bible if would be wildly self-centered, uninteresting, and of no use to anyone’s life, relationships, or eternal consequence. If any of us were to write the Bible it would result in a work worth tossing up there with the rest of the self help titles. Men did write the Bible, but not from their own motivated imagination. It didn’t come from within but from another dimension. There were over 40 authors who were simply pencils in the hand of God inscribing His words for mankind to live by. God used men to make Himself known. 

The Bible is alive. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. {Hebrews 4:12}

The Bible is practical. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.” {Proverbs 3:1}

The Bible is powerful. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” {Romans 1:16}

The Bible is true. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” {1 John 4:10}

Think about it, who could make up a story about a God would didn’t require His subjects to earn His favor or work to gain His approval? Only we could make up a story like that. It’s how we operate. From classroom achievement to playing time on the field. We are loved if we make others look good. We’re discarded if we don’t. 

The Bible tells of a God who was discarded on a cross so we could receive His approval that we could never attain. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us more, and there’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less. As one person said, “His love is counter-conditional.” He offers love for opposition, acceptance for rejection, and approval in the face of sin. 

Many are good. Many are bad. No one is perfect. That makes all equal. And desperate. For love. Forgiveness. Salvation. Healing. And resurrection.

All we can do is believe it to be true and receive it as the gift it was given to be.

 

 

The “Perks” of Being a Pastor

I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor for a number of years. Frequently pastors get a bad rap and often people act weird around us as if we’re God’s police officers.

There are actually a lot of perks to being a pastor. I realized this when I was with a friend (who is not a friend) the other day driving home from a parade. We were having a discussion as to which way was quicker. I was driving so I chose the route. My friend remarked that his way would have been three minutes faster but we were making good time because we hadn’t missed a green light.

“God must be hooking you up.”

His comment made me realize that there are actually a lot of perks for being a pastor. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • The “Take-a-penny-Leave-a-penny” tray is always full
  • We can drink wine in church
  • We never get brain freeze for eating ice cream too fast
  • Our cup is always “half-full”
  • Stepping on a crack does not break our mother’s back
  • We can claim Tim Tebow on our taxes
  • We have a forcefield that protects us against bird poop
  • We never accidentally bite our tongues
  • We get VIP treatment at the DMV
  • We have Bono on speed dial
  • Our yards don’t grow weeds
  • We don’t have body odor
  • Twitter automatically retweets all our tweets
  • Bill Gates gives every person a robot when they become a pastor
  • Our grocery bags never break open
  • O’Charles gives us free pie on Wednesdays
  • We can talk to lions
  • Pot holes fill before we drive over them
  • We always have perfect pitch
  • We have a secret resort on Saturn’s rings to use for Sabbatical
  • We can play Jedi mind tricks (this blog is proof)
  • Chips never get stuck in the vending machine
  • There are only cherubs under our beds and angels in our closets
  • We always find a random $5 bill in our back pockets
  • Our fly zips automatically
  • We always find pennies heads up
  • C.S. Lewis left plenty of personal wardrobes for us
  • Our calls never get dropped
  • You can thank us for the creation of “snow days”
  • Our shoe laces never come untied accidentally
  • We can ride in the HOV lane without another passenger
  • We always find spaces up front during holiday shopping
  • We can summon Gandalf for birthday party entertainment

There are some similarities between us and Chuck Norris I’ll give you that. But the truth is, pastors are sinful, broken, and desperate people in need of the graceful healing freedom of Jesus Christ.

He is the only perk.

Preggers With Grace and Truth

What’s the big deal about the virgin Mary? In my opinion she gets more press than she desrves. It is important to acknowledge that she, as a virgin, did give birth to Jesus, but this didn’t make her sinless or better than anyone else; and it doesn’t set her above Jesus in holiness.

Mary is just like you and me.

Throughout hundreds of years it has been belived that Mary, the mother of God, was full of grace, making her sinless and equipping her to provide others with grace for the salvation of their souls. This is a distortion. Mary played an important role in God’s story of rescue and restoration, but it did not exalt her to the level of perfection above the rest of mankind.

She’s just like you and me.

The idea that Mary is set apart from the rest of humanity is based on a misinterpretation of a verse in the Gospel of Luke. An angel appeared to Mary to reveal the part she would play in God’s plan to redeem humanity and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” And a couple verses later reiterates, ” Mary, you have found favor with God.” It’s understandable that some would interpret this in such a way that would place Mary on a pedestal over and above the rest of mankind. God doesn’t just show up on any ‘ol person’s doorstep claiming that they’re favored by Him, right?

Or does He?

As the story of Jesus’ birth progresses angels show up again, and this time the sky is packed out with them in all their winged and haloed swagger. They appear to a field full of unknown shepherds and sheep singing Handels Messiah and helping Anaheim win the world series. They actually came to make an important announce. Yes, Jesus was born, but this wasn’t the only good news they had for the Shepherds. The angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Mary was favored by God and so were a bunch of unnamed shepherds?

So, why don’t these guys get the attention Mary does?

It is because their part in the story wasn’t to give birth to Jesus, but only worship and proclaim His coming instead?

Mary and the shepherds are the same, they were just given different roles to play in God’s story. All they had to do was be faithful to their responsibility. If Mary had said “no” to the angel, God still would have come to earth in human form most likely through another virgin who was willing, but Mary was the one God wanted to use. All she had to was be faithful to the call. But her faithfulness didn’t make her holy, because all people, Mary, shepherds, you, me, criminals, and our enemies are favored by God – we all have been offered grace and truth through Jesus; and a part to play in God’s story of rescue and redemption.

Billy Graham is a world renown name. He has delivered God’s message of grace and truth to millions. He has been esteemed by men and women over the past 50+ years, but he is no more favored by God than anyone of us. He just has been faithful with the role God has set for him to play in His story.

John 1:14 says that Jesus came to earth full of grace and truth. When Jesus filled Mary’s womb she was literally filled with God’s grace and truth for all humanity. Jesus came to reveal the truth about God, the reality of our sin that separates us from Him, and what He’s done to rescue and restore us. And Jesus came to offer the grace of God to a broken and lost people incapable of saving and repairing our lives. When we accept  the truth about God and admit what has damaged our connection with Him we become the recipients of His grace – grace that can’t be earned but can forgive and heal our relationship with Him.

Essentially, when we let Jesus into our lives, we, like Mary, become pregnant with, full of, grace and truth. Our responsibility, then, like Mary, the shepherds, Billy Graham, and the multitude of other unnamed individuals who have told us about Jesus, is to reveal, expose, “give birth” (if you like), and offer the grace and truth of Jesus that we have received, to a world so desperate for the knowledge that everyone is favored by God so much that He would offer us grace and truth. We just have to be faithful with our role in God’s story.

:: The French Pressed Four ::

: Egg Nog :: Don’t hate!

:: Harris YMCA 5-1-5 Basketball Tournament :: Hooping to help the homeless in Charlotte. Well done fellas!

::: Slumdog Millionaire :: Saw it post-hype, and still liked it.

:::: Menno Simons :: A little church history for you to brew on over the weekend.