I Am To Blame For The World’s Problems

Faced with bad news in our world we have two choices – 1. Take responsibility for it or 2. Point fingers at others and place blame.

Which one of these do you think most people choose?

I am tired of finger pointing and blaming all of the world’s problems on others. As a Texan follower of Christ, I mainly see this kind of behavior among Christians who want to place the blame for moral decay and chaos at the feet of the common suspects – liberals, homosexuals, and Hollywood.

Maybe these groups deserve some of the blame but if they do so does their opposites. How you ask? Last I checked, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, even the conservative, straight, and pro-family Christians. The last I checked, the Christian church deals with scandals of the Money, Sex, and Power variety just like anywhere else. The last I checked my own heart, I discovered hatred, rage, revenge, incredible selfishness, superficiality, immorality and disbelief. I am part of the problem and the sooner I can start working on my own heart and continue to transform into a Christlike version of myself, the sooner the world will change around me.

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The alternative is to not have to worry about my own faults and mistakes because I can blame it on someone else. That is not a recipe for Growing Up. Most likely, it is a recipe for staying still and after too long we start to regress because our way of seeing the world is predicated on ignoring our own heart and we are unable to see the log in our own eye as we try to flick out the speck in everyone else’s.

So, what can we do?

First, fall on your knees and cry out for mercy. You are a sinner, I am a sinner, and even though we have the divine power in our lives to change and put on the new self, we are still at the mercy of Christ and his salvation for our redemption. Know your need and humble yourself. We have not reached moral, social, or political blamelessness.

Second, admit that you are a part of an unbelieving generation who has very little faith that God can solve the world’s problems. We are like the disciples who couldn’t heal because of their lack of faith and deserve Jesus’ criticism and frustration. And we are like the Pharisees whose only answer to the world’s problems are self righteousness, judgement, condescension, and ridicule. We can do better than that.

Third, Grow Up. Practice some of the things that have been discussed in this blog. Ask Christ to change you. Repent of your sins and judgmental nature. Listen to God. Read scripture. Be a part of a community that wants to grow in trust and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As I start to put on more of Christ and you start to put on more of Christ then we start to become an unstoppable force known as the Kingdom of God. Beware of poor and dangerous substitutes for the Kingdom of God and ruthlessly compare them to what you see in Christ and the early church.

If finger pointing is our solution to the world’s problems then we are only going to make matters worse. But, if we can humbly accept our own penchant for evil, are vast ability to screw things up, and our urgent and pressing need for Christ then we have a starting point for our own growth. This is difficult work but where has finger pointing taken us?

Do the hard work and start to see Christ change the world around you.

Love Isn’t Supposed To Be Rare

I have been reading the book Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins. He tells the story of the pastor of the Baptist church in his Mississippi town in the early 1960s. Perkins, who is black, had befriended the white pastor and they had reached common ground on their love for the Lord and the Bible and Perkins had developed a white ally for his work with the marginalized and poor in his community. Sadly, Perkins’ pastor friend committed suicide shortly after the start of their friendship. After the funeral, Perkins talked with a member of the Baptist church. She said, “The last few Sundays he had been acting strange. He was talking about love and concern but in a strange way.” Perkins then writes about this encounter, “So it was strange to hear all that talk about love and concern. So sad, I thought. Are love and concern really as rare as all that?”

As Christians, our default mode should be love. Jesus himself says that we will be known as his followers when we love. Sadly, the human default is often anger, fear, selfishness, and greed. When I examine my own heart, I often would much rather turn to anger than understanding, to fear rather than trust, and selfishness rather than love. 

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My base state is a million miles from love and concern and it takes daily practice and much help from the Holy Spirit to deny myself, take up my cross, follow Jesus, and love in the way of Jesus. One of my prayers lately has been, “Let me love others in the same way that you love me. Blessing everyone that I meet, even those that mistreat me.”* 

This might be the most radical thing I can pray for in a given day because for it to be answered would mean it would change the way I drive, the way I talk to my kids, the way I choose a line at the grocery store, the way I view politics, and the way I treat my enemies.

Brian Zahnd says that “the future belongs to love.” My eternal destiny will be in the presence of God, who is love. I will not be able to escape him. Love will inhabit all of eternal life and I will be soaking in it. I might as well start my exposure and practice in it now. It will serve me and all those around me so dramatically better than the non-love that we see around us and are so capable of.

If the future belongs to love, let’s start our future now.

*Taken from a book by Bill Gaultiere called Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke.

Quit Worrying About Your Level of Faith

The definition of a simple faith is not a small sentence with the most minimum of doctrine. A simple faith is wanting to believe. But this isn’t good enough for our 21st Century mindset that has to have not just happiness but fulfillment, not just wellness but fitness, not just devotion but radical commitment. 

When it comes to our Growing Up, what if we were satisfied with the faith that we have because we know that we are not ultimately responsible for our spiritual lives. If faith is a gift then whatever miniscule amount that we possess didn’t come from our own doing but was given to us by God. Our job is to take our faith, as diminished as it may be, and offer it to God and ask him to build on it and then start practicing proven methods to provide a context to Grow our faith – namely prayer, worship, scripture reading, and service.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Lately, I have wrestled with some serious doubts but that didn’t stop me from worshipping, fasting, praying, reading the Psalms, writing this blog, and listening for God last week. My faith is still strong even though my understanding about how God works and what he is trying to accomplish in my life may be in doubt. 

When a former student told James Bryan Smith that she hadn’t experienced God in a while and was worried about her spiritual life and her future in ministry, Smith responded with, “I have never seen your faith stronger.” His point was that despite the dryness of her life with Christ at the moment she hadn’t wavered from her commitment and her discipline in matters of faith. The lack of present experiences with God was not a sign of her lack of faith. The fact that in despite of all she was missing her practices were still frequent, dedicated, and intense showed that she was open and available for something greater, richer, and deeper. According to Smith, she found it and her ministry has flourished and been fruitful.

Dallas Willard says:

I never worry about someone who wants to believe, because I know that they already believe enough to want to believe more. If they did not already believe a great deal they would not even want to believe. That is why God says to us through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart” (Jer. 29:13). Why? Because only faith would lead you to seek God with all of your heart.

Not feeling it during worship? You still have faith. Relationships not working out? You still have faith. Doubts present when they were not there before? You still have faith. 

Remember what we have faith in? The God of the universe who is pleased with you and loves you and never turned his back on his creation. The God who provided us his son to learn from, to demonstrate divine love, and to sacrifice his perfect life for the sole benefit of an often ungrateful but always sinful people.

A simple faith is wanting to believe and a realization that God has exactly what I need. That is enough for God and should be enough for us. God can use this simple faith to build on. Will we let him?

Your Only Option Is To Embrace Inconveniences

Today, I may face a hundred interruptions and multiple inconveniences. What I do with these moments may be the most important aspect of my day. What if I let these moments be holy moments?

I know what you are saying. An inconvenience could be straight from Satan and something that I could denounce and not think twice about. Or, most likely, an inconvenience could simply be a reflection of my selfish and inconsiderate heart that is ready to be irritated at the slightest drain on my time, energy, or space. 

I am always struck by how Jesus dealt with inconveniences. While he is going to heal an important person’s daughter he stops the healing parade to address some forgotten woman, much to the irritation of his disciples. When little kids are around and the disciples are wanting to get rid of them, Jesus rebukes them and says, if anything, these kids should be the model for the rest of them. When a storm is surging around him, Jesus finally is able to take a nap. When soldiers come to arrest Jesus and a servant loses an ear in the scuffle, Jesus takes a moment to heal the wound of the earless man. When his own family comes desperately knocking on the building door for his attention, Jesus doesn’t lose the moment to make a point and welcome all of the faithful to his family.

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So, what if I was to take the Jesus approach to these inconveniences and interruptions? Instead of growing irritated and bemoaning the derailment of my day or hour, what if I embraced these moments as a chance to trust, a chance to serve someone, a chance to heal. Instead of dreading that next interruption, what if I welcomed it and looked forward to it because God may be in it and who am I to judge God’s timing, God’s way, and God’s will. 

C.S. Lewis calls these interruptions our “real life”:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

I am going to embrace my real inconvenient life today and see what God does with it and how he helps me Grow Up in the process.

Communion In the Time of Corona

I miss sharing Communion. 

Up until mid-March, the church that we attend offered Communion each Sunday. The way they did it was select members are stationed at the front of the sanctuary holding baskets of bread and a cup of juice. The congregants would come forward to take a piece of bread and dip it in the juice and then return to their seats. As the bread is taken, the church member holding the bread says, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.” Then as you dip the bread the church member holding the cup says, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.” Some people would eat their bread right there and some would wait until they returned to their seat. The whole thing was participatory, intentional, Christ-centered, and spiritual. And I looked forward to it everytime.

Now, we still take Communion but instead of walking in reverence to the front of the church, we stay put and clumsily and loudly open small baggies of bread and peel off carefully, so as not to spill all over ourselves, the tiny cup of juice. We forget the order we are supposed to go in and no one is telling us as we partake what the bread means and whose blood this is. It is disorienting and awkward and not much like the process that I love. It feels like we are eating one of those packaged and sealed ration meals that serve as food but in such a clinical and unsatisfying way. Damn you Coronavirus for taking this grand gesture and holy ordinance away from us and for reducing it to a “Lunchable” version. 

I am grateful for the chance to attend church, to sing with other believers, to hear the gospel proclaimed, and to take Communion, even this watered down version. Still, I long for a chance to join my fellow believers in the procession to the altar to receive the bread and the cup. I long for the chance to respond to the invitation to join the meal, not from my seat, but looking into the eyes of a fellow pilgrim and telling them thank you as I take and eat. I long for the chance to trail after our daughters as they join the meal and have that gratefulness that they are welcome at this table and are ready participants.

Despite my longings, this Lord’s Supper, even in its watered down version, is not about me and my preferences and good feelings. This Communion is about God’s Grace that will not be hindered by death, by disease, by upheaval, by broken leadership, or by my high capacity to screw things up. This Grace that keeps sneaking through no matter what is blocking its way. This Grace that comes to me even though I haven’t earned it and do not deserve it. It is a gift that requires only one thing from me – to receive it and enjoy it. I may not have much control over the circumstances of the times that we live in but I can still accept this Grace with open hands. 

My hands are open, Lord, for your Grace. I may not like the packaging and the presentation but I will take it. Give it to me, I need it.

The Quest For Approval Is Killing Me

Several years ago, I remember going to the first sessions of the Apprentice Experience.  These sessions were led by people that I truly admired and had learned so much from. Instead of sitting under their teaching and soaking in the wisdom and the potential for insight that God would provide through them I found myself trying to come up with impressive things to say and keen insights that others would find clever and deep. I wanted others to know how spiritually mature I was and that I was on par with these great teachers. 

How quickly my superficial and shallow make up showed up in a setting that was supposed to be spiritual and full of learning and experiencing God. I discovered I had a lot of Growing Up to do in the area of seeking approval and attention.

The word approval looks so innocent on the page or the screen. You would never know that its power has caused such misery across human history. Our efforts to find approval, even from people we don’t even know, has so consumed many of us that our own personalities are lost and our true selves are put to death. I have known men and women whose sole criteria for the worth of an institution like a church, a job, a small group, or a set of friends was how much praise and attention they got out of it.

Photo credit: Princess Productions / J Paul / Flickr / Creative Commons

I am not much different. I am often jealous and envious of others who receive praise and attention or always seem to be the apple of people’s eyes. I like to demean those people in my own mind and argue to myself and sometimes others why they are not so great. What I am doing is playing the comparison game. With 7.8 million people in the world, this comparison game will never stop and I will always find someone that gets more attention, is more appealing to others, receives more praise, and accomplishes more. There is not a more unwinnable game on earth than the comparison game.

When I find myself seeking attention and wanting people to notice me and trying to impress others, I also notice that I am weakened, fragile emotionally, straining and grasping and exhausted. This is no way to live.

To get me out of this rut I have to turn to scripture because within scripture I find words, stories, and truth of who I am outside of the approval of others. I have to seek Jesus and know that he is seeking me. I love the classic benediction of “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” I find favor in God, I find attention from God, I find love and compassion from God, and I find peace. Dallas Willard often talked about the experience of Jesus coming right up to you and saying, “I love you! I approve of you!”

In my life, I have been controlled by the approval of others and when I don’t receive it then I can get bitter and resentful very quickly. I have to remind myself that my ultimate approval comes from God not from anyone else. For God so loved me that he has given me his own son to love me, teach me, befriend me, and die for me. 

What more approval do I need?

Bold Christianity is Not What You Think

I have a fear for new believers or younger Christians who have experienced the saving work of Christ on their lives and are now looking for models of how to behave as a Christian. These new Christians are sincere and dedicated and they want a behavior to match their bold belief and enthusiasm. 

The problem is that the most outspoken and in your face believers they probably see in their churches, on TV, or on Social Media are highly into politics, or are pushy and legalistic when it comes to “Christian” cultural touchstones like homeschooling, parenting, and the latest theological debate. 

So, these new believers, in a quest to be bold and to show off their new found excitement, join these bold examples not knowing that this is “fool’s bold.” The boldness demonstrated by the most vocal Christian on your Facebook feed or the most celebrated family in your church does not often match the boldness talked about in scripture or the most important characteristics of a community of believers in the early church.

Just a simple search for the words bold, boldness, or boldly in the New Testament comes up with references to speaking and declaring the Good News and the Kingdom of God. The apostles were bold in their declaration of Christ and his saving work. They talked of Jesus and what he has done and what he is still doing and what he will do. That was the model of boldness among the early believers – their making known the message of the Gospel.

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Also instructive is to look at the prayers that Paul has for the churches he is writing to. He does not pray for their political voice, their dedication to causes, or their correctness in apologetics. Instead, he prays like this:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:9-14

In another letter, Paul praises a church because of their imitation of the Lord Jesus and for being messengers of the faith to the point that they were listed as “models for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

A bold church and bold Christians are those that are full of people Growing Up, discovering new things about God, practicing thankfulness and joy, serving others, demonstrating patience, celebrating God’s mercy, and making Christ (not a poor substitute for the Good News) known.

If you are longing for a deeper commitment and feel compelled to take on a more intense version of your Christianity, take heart, you do not have to fit some characterized and stereotyped version of an American Christian who is full of false righteousness, loud mouthed political takes, and Christian cultural fads that are more hype than substance. You can simply and humbly dedicate yourself to imitating Christ, loving him, serving him, generating the Fruits of the Spirit, and gently telling others of what Christ has done for you.

This is biblical boldness. The kind of boldness that may not get you much attention or followers but will honor God and spread his Kingdom.

The First Job of A Christian

The word glory and glorify is used over and over in scripture but do we know what it means to glorify?

I don’t think I could have given you a definition until yesterday. In the Reservoir devotional that our staff has been going through we read this definition, “to glorify means to cause the worth of something to become visible and acknowledged.”

As a Christian, it is my job to glorify Jesus Christ and not myself, my virtue, or even my church and its accomplishments. How do we do this?

First, we have to understand the worth of Jesus so that we can recognize why he should be glorified.

Jesus is God’s Son who humbled himself to take on flesh and live among the sinful, selfish, ignorant, and foolish human race. He healed, loved, taught, served, and sacrificed for these humans that didn’t appreciate it half the time and often tried to attack him for it. He lived a perfect life and took that perfect life and gave it up to death as a perfect sacrifice for all of those humans who loved him and even the ones who hated him.

That death was an atonement for all of the sin and the propensity to screw things up that should have brought punishment and death for us humans. After entering death in our place, Jesus defeated that death and rose from the grave to demonstrate the power of Christ to overcome all that this evil world could possibly do to destroy us. Jesus now dwells in those that have committed their life to him and is directing his kingdom to have done what needs to be done in the name of God and for the blessing of the human race.

Now that we know the worth of Christ, we then make that worth known to others. We tell his story, we point people to him, we praise his name, we sing about him, we study him, we pray to him, we listen to him, we confess to him, we place him at the center of our existence, and we humble ourselves in relation to his greatness.

I like the simplicity of the word “acknowledged” in the definition. Acknowledge is a surrender to the truth. When we glorify God, we surrender to the truth of who Jesus is and we direct others to discover that truth as well. I surrender that I am lacking and powerless to change myself and those around me without the might and power of the resurrected Christ. I am humbled and through my words and actions, Christ is seen as the only hope and truth for a dying world. Then Christ’s name gets glorified even more.

As Christians, we try to replace our one job of glorifying Christ with countless other things, some good and noble and some just frivolous and detrimental. If Christ is your savior then glorify him today in all that you do. Make the glorified Christ known and acknowledged. Humanity is starving for the hope that only Christ can bring.

Glorify him.

How To Make A Neighbor

There is a character in the Bible that is never named but he is labeled by Bible scholars and readers throughout history. He is known as the Good Samaritan. What strikes me as funny about that the Good Samaritan name is that it has taken on a life of its own. Like the man who received this label is some kind of super hero. “There he, the GOOD SAMARITAN. He travels dangerous stretches of Israel saving the weak and those that are crying for help, he is…The GOOD SAMARITAN.”

The words “good Samaritan” does not appear in the story. In fact, for the people that Jesus was telling this story to the mention of the name Samaritan evoked hatred and prejudice. In there racist and biased view, there was no such thing as a Samaritan who is good. For these people, Samaritans were half breeds, betrayers of the one true God, defilers of the covenant, lacking in blessing, and backward and ignorant. By the time Jesus comes along the Samaritans were so despised that “good” Jews of Jesus’ day wouldn’t even step foot in Samaria even though this often forced them to add miles and miles to their travels north and south in Israel.

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Watts, Manchester Art Gallery

As Jesus completes the lesson he asked the religious leaders who are so proud of their own piety and righteousness who is the neighbor in the story? The answer is obvious to everyone but the person who is questioning Jesus cannot even breathe the word Samaritan and instead spins the answer so he doesn’t have to say the name.

In Jesus’ provocative telling, he uses one of the most despised groups of people in his culture and makes a hero out of one them. The point being that race, politics, country of origin, economic status, and religious respectability is not what makes a person good. A clear sign of a good person is their ability to love others. If Jesus was telling this story to the run of the mill Evangelical church, he might choose different groups to draw his hero of the story – the Good Muslim, the Good Democrat, the Good Homosexual, the Good African American. Also, if he was telling the story in other contexts he might use the Good Evangelical, the Good Republican, or the Good White Person.

Jesus point is two fold. We make ourselves a neighbor by our love for others AND we make others a neighbor by our willingness to love them. I wake up today willing to be a neighbor because of my love for others and those that receive my love are my neighbor because they deserve love from me. As Dallas Willard says, “In God’s order nothing can substitute for loving people.”

As our society tries to determine its future in terms of race, justice, and equality may we take our cue from the Good Samaritan and step out of our prepackaged labels and love those around us so that we will be known for nothing else but our love and the source of that love, Jesus Christ.

*This post was inspired by a section out of Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy.

Being Honest With God

As a lifelong Church goer, I am fully aware of the patterns of behavior and ways of thinking that I can sink into that present me as a respectable and good “Christian.” I have been conditioned to look good based on the expectation of the church even though it is all very safe and does not prosper Growing Up or spark much inspiration.

One area where this is obvious is prayer. A lifelong church goer becomes conditioned to pray in the style and manner that they hear in public prayer within the church and among church members. These church goers find a raw and stripped down style of praying to be alien and unlike what they are accustomed to. So, when they go to pray, even privately, their initial tendency is to stick to the safe and staid patterns of prayer that they usually hear in church.

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Through circumstance or need they have not been in a situation where crying out to God in a gut-level way is a viable option. Thank goodness that the Psalms demonstrate to us that prayer can be whining, prayer can be pleading, prayer can be lament, prayer can be stripped to the bone honesty.

Psalm 13 says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

If this kind of honesty disturbs us or the use of raw language feels unsettling to us then this is probably a point of growth. The thing is, we can use the Psalms as our prayer book. This is how they have been used for thousands of years and we can use them in this way now. We can actually speak these words as our own words and start to flex our honest and sincere prayer muscles so that we can begin to talk to God with the enthusiasm of our highest highs and the brokenness of our lowest lows. This is what God wants us to do, he knows our hearts, he knows what we are truly dealing with so we might as well start there and leave the pretense and sanitized language behind.

I need this help too. In addition to praying the Psalms, maybe we should write our own prayers as an exercise in speaking honestly with God. Perhaps something like this:

“Father, I am so tired of this disease that has disrupted my life. I can’t bear the uncertainty it has caused any more. And I am not even suffering from the disease itself. The isolation, loneliness, and helplessness that it has caused good people, innocent people is awful beyond account. Make it stop. End this. I know you have the power to heal and to change this. When will you?”

Stop sugar coating your prayers and lay your heart in front of God. Break that need for refinement and emotional control when approaching God. He is not impressed by you playing a part. Be the real you. For it is in prayer that the Psalmists show us we need to be the most real.