Infallible Trustworthiness

trustworthiness

Yesterday, after reading a couple more chapters of the book of Hebrews with our two oldest boys, I was recounting to Jen some of what we had read and discussed. Julia, our seven-year-old was also in the room. From what we are reading, a common theme the author of Hebrews seems to be conveying is the ultimate, unfailing trustworthiness of God, so I used the phrase, “infallible trustworthiness”, and asked Julia if she knew what that meant. She did not, but she did listen when I explained, “It means God can always—always—be trusted.”

He can.

Early in the letter called “Hebrews”, it’s stated that God can not lie. It is impossible for him to lie. Jesus’ supremacy is also well established, and his role as our intermediary—our advocate, High Priest—is outlined in great detail. That God is for us, always, seems to be a main theme of the Hebrews.

We are often encouraged, then, to trust him, based on this. Approach the throne of grace with confidence. Come to him in our time of need.

Through the years, various lines and sections from the book of Hebrews have encouraged me about who God is and my relationship to him. I’ve included many of them in songs I’ve written, and recalled them “in my time(s) of need”. So, I’ve enjoyed reading through this letter again, and discuss it with my boys. I love seeing them process and understand grace and the truths of God’s Kingdom.

Most of all, perhaps, is this recurring theme of God’s infallible trustworthiness.

It’s what’s caused all of the people mentioned in chapter eleven, the “by faith” section, to see far beyond their circumstances to something they believed and hoped for. It wasn’t their belief in something, but someOne who spurred them on.

“By faith… Their weakness was turned to strength…” (11:34)

In the end, the whole of our existence depends upon him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the fullness of God and man. It’s beyond comprehension, and yet it’s the foundation of all that we are.

The list of people who accomplished great things in full reliance upon God’s infallible trustworthiness is summed up by the following:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. (12:1-2)

We’ve heard that before, but it is the essence of what is most important: keeping our eyes on Jesus.

It’s easy to take our eyes off of him. Circumstances can easily distract us. Financial and employment struggles, relational woes within a family or with close friends, chronic health issues, or even diagnoses of terminal illness and death.

And yet, Jesus is with us through all of that. If we clear away the clutter, be it sin, doubt, worry, fear, or anything else distracting us from him, and keep our eyes on him, we will know joy—life in its fullness.

When we’re crushed by sadness, guilt, hopelessness, it’s hard. It feels impossible to “trust”. I know.

…let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. […] Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise (10:22-23)

God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Wherever you’re doubting today, worrying, fearing, remember those words: “God can be trusted to keep his promise.” He promises us rest, peace, grace, forgiveness, and his love, from which nothing can separate us.

He is with us. He is for us.

What, or who, can ever be against us?

I highly recommend to you a re-read of the book of Hebrews. We’re enjoying it in larger chunks, which to me helps provide context. Some prefer to go slower, meditating on smaller portions.

However you do it, may the words refresh your trust in our God’s infallible trustworthiness!

And let us, together, keep our eyes on Jesus.

Thoughts on Church Attendance

church-serviceI’m not sure why, but it’s curious to me that the topic of church attendance has popped up a time or two in recent conversations. It’s sort of different every time, but all of the occasions have been cordial, courteous, and even understanding and affirming of the thoughts we have on how we are part of the church, the body of Christ. I can’t think of any time that I have brought it up, but it’s been part of enough conversations that it merited a post here this mid-February day.

Right in the middle of these instances of “church talk” was an article I happened to spot by author, Donald Miller, on his website StoryLineBlog.com. I am subscribed to his blog and usually scan his posts once a week or so, reading those that catch my eye. Last week I spotted one titled, “Why I Don’t Go To Church Very Often, A Follow Up Blog“. Follow up? I wondered, I don’t remember seeing the first one…

Curious, I clicked and read, then clicked his link to the original and read—and much more surprising than anything Miller shared were the readers’ comments to both of these blog posts.

Miller’s first article was merely an informal, from-the-heart, spur-of-the-moment, observational post about a recent weekend worship service experience. He basically was “confessing” (his word) that he doesn’t connect with God through music, or any element of the traditional worship service. And so he has chosen to not often be part of that gathering, but finds community with other believers (the Church) elsewhere in life.

Seems fairly harmless to me. How about you?

The readers who felt the need to reply were (it seemed to me) mostly distraught at his proclamation. “How could you say it’s OK to not be part of the church!” And, “Church is not about you, or what you get out of it, Don!” And the lambasting continued with comment after comment—at the writing of this post, there are just about 500 comments on the original post—most of them sharply chastising Miller’s flippant attitude towards the sacred.

Hoo-boy… I’ve been there.

The issue is not whether or not we are called to be together, or to live and serve each other and together in community as the body of Christ. That’s a fairly obvious reality of the church from scripture. The issue is what we are calling “church”.

If you mainly see the hour (or two) on a weekend day—some people attend a Saturday service, you know—as “church” then you might be prone to astonishment at someone’s admission that it’s not their favorite thing—AND that they are “OK” with not attending it. That is actually understandable.

But did Jesus really come into this world to share the Good News of the Sunday morning worship service? Is that what we are called to?

I truly do not want to stir the pot here, creating my own flurry of vengeful, protective, defending-the-Kingdom comments. Please don’t respond here, if that’s all you’re feeling. (Because, I think if that’s what you’re feeling, you’re not hearing me correctly.)

I’d be very interested in calm, collected, thoughtful responses to anything I’ve said, or even more, what Donald Miller shared in either post linked above (and I’ll add them below here, too).

It was all so fascinating how vigorously and intensely the weekend worship service was defended by so many voices. The guilt-laden obligation that dripped from many of those same comments was also telling, I think.

Wherever you are with Jesus, I hope you are at peace. If you are not, I hope that it’s his spirit nudging you toward the freedom we are able to have in him—If the son has set you free, you are free indeed.—not toward a life without him, but into a life of rest in his grace and mercy and goodness. Freedom of a life with him.

Here are the links again

I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.
Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often, a Follow Up Blog

AND, if you want to read more on thoughts about what the church is, and what it can be, I did publish a book about that: There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church! Available at Amazon, and there is also a free (PDF) download. (But it’s nicer to pay for books… if you can.) 🙂 See below.

htc-small
There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church by Greg Campbell, is available through Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the book title in the previous sentence. If you’d like a free PDF version, it is available here. Also have some of the audio version available at church.gregshead.net. Thanks for reading, sharing, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, or wherever else you can reach me.

[ThisDay] First And Second Birthdays

Today’s post was a poignant piece, originally published one year after the death of a family friend. We all celebrate birthdays, but it’s harder to celebrate our second birthdays; at least it’s hard for those left behind here in this mortal existence. I wrote this about one year after our friend died, and one day after my mom’s “first” birthday (Jan 26th). If you’d like to read something lighter, January 27th is an active day for publishing in GregsHead.net history. See the list at the end of the post for the lighter fare. But today’s primary selection is just below. Enjoy.

First And Second Birthdays

January 27th, 2012

Yesterday was my Mom’s birthday. January 26th is a circled day on the calendar, celebrated by our family. Has been for as long as I have memories. All day long, we think of my Mom. We call, we video chat, we send cards… we celebrate the life she began on January 26th, 19xx. 🙂

(I don’t know that my Mom has any real problem with me sharing her age, but… just in case… since she reads this blog … Suffice it to say that this year her two-digit age ends with a zero! So in some ways it was an even more memorable/special year.)

I love my Mom and love celebrating her birthday! (Even if we’re not in the same location on the birthday day.)

At some point during that day I was reminded that the 26th of January is also the birth day of our good friend’s Mom. She, too was born on the twenty-sixth day of the first month of the year. If I recollect correctly, she was even born in the same state, not far from where my Mom was born. She too has children who love her, and many grandkids.

But she has another birthday.

A little over a decade ago, she was born into her eternal life. She is now with Jesus. So her birthday is celebrated at least a little differently than the way we celebrate January 26th here, where we can still show our love and see it received, and given back.

It’s better to be with the Lord. The Bible tells us so. But I’d imagine first birthdays are at least a little harder when the one birthed has had their second birthday already, and you’re left celebrating without them.

This week I’ve also been thinking of our friends who are coming up on the one-year anniversary of a second birthday. Tomorrow will be one year since our friends lost a Dad and a Husband and a Grandpa; and since we lost someone who was becoming a good friend.

Death leaves such an absence. It’s hard to celebrate the second birthdays. Again, it’s better to be with the Lord, but that truth seems distant when the life so suddenly changes, and the void is so clearly known and seen and felt.

I know it’s been rough again lately for our friend who lost her Dad. (And I know for many years our friend who lost her Mom has missed her so dearly on many occasions, more than just first and second birthdays.)

It definitely makes me value the days that I have now with my Mom, who’s still only had her first birthday.

The hope that we have runs deep. I know and trust that once we have both passed the threshold into our eternal life, I won’t have to live or think about living life without my Mom in my life. That is a great hope.

But I’ll say it again: for now, on at least some levels, I’m very glad my Mom is still only one.

I rejoice for the lives of the two parents I know, mentioned above, who are missed yesterday and tomorrow. They loved well and are still well loved. I am praying peace now for the kids who miss their beloved parents on their first and second birthdays respectively. But I already know they have hope. And in that I also rejoice.

This talk of “second birthdays” has a bit of a morbid undertone, but if you know our Jesus, it’s a wonderful thing when you turn two.

It’s just harder for all the one-year-olds who are still waiting for their own second birthday.

It will come. And then others will both mourn and rejoice on our two birthdays. And we will celebrate with all of the ones we loved who went before us.

What a birthday party that will be.


Note: This photo of my Mom is slightly dated, but it’s a good one, with several of our kids loving their Grammy. There are not many photos of my Mom in existence, and I’m nearly certain this is the only one published online! So, I might get in a tiny bit of trouble, but… I know she still loves me. Right, Mom? 🙂

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 27th

[ThisDay] Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

January 22nd in GregsHead history was slightly more difficult to whittle down than some of the other days. It was not due to volume, though—only five posts. Four of the five posts are worth reading (the other is worth it if you are using WordPress for blogging…) but of the six options, I selected the article below for today’s re-reading. Please enjoy this little anecdote from a dinner conversation just last January. Good theological discussion!

Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

January 22nd, 2013

Our family is currently making our way through the book of Luke together. We’re taking our time, but I do enjoy reading in larger chunks, so we will often read what might be the subject of an entire series of sermons in one sitting.

Tonight, we read through the fifteenth chapter: the three stories of lost and found.

Though we’d often read more than that, it’s such a good three-part story—with the most famous, the Prodigal Son story at the end—that I thought it would be nice to stop and discuss.

The kids are reading and learning about “unreached people groups” with Mom during the school days, and both of the older boys picked up on the “lost” theme that Jesus’ stories held.

When I asked what everyone heard in Jesus’ stories, Ian replied first, “I think it shows that God cares about every single person: if even one in a thousand is lost, there’s a celebration when he realizes he’s wrong and returns to God.”

“Yep. So right, Ian.” I affirmed.

Alex chimed in next, “Or, like if one person in the 10 million in Japan who are buddhists or other things turn to Christianity. It’s like that, even.”

I smiled and affirmed Alex’s insightful answer, too. But something didn’t sit right with me, the way he had phrased that answer.

Ian and Mom both explained what they had been studying—unreached people groups—and I realized what it was that bothered me: the lost returning home story is not about conversions to Christianity, it’s about the Good News that Jesus is life and nothing else.

I tried to lovingly expand on that thought to Alex, but I guess maybe it didn’t come out quite right. Jen didn’t think I was saying it correctly, and by offering further instruction at that time, kinda squashed Alex.

jesus-christ-in-stained-glassAnd, honestly, she doesn’t really agree with my instruction, that Christianity is not the same as Jesus.

I told Alex that the somewhat subtle distinction between someone “turning to Christianity” and someone meeting Jesus (The One true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent) are often, even usually very different things.

One is a religion. Plain and simple, Christianity is not in the Bible. (Really! It’s true!) In this sense, Christianity is no different than Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, and so on. Jesus never talked about establishing a religion (though he did mention building the Church) and I can’t think of anywhere that the word “Christianity” or “Christendom” can be found on the pages of Scripture. (Though other people called the Church, “Christians”—Acts 11, and Acts 26—the only other occurrence of the word is in 1 Peter 4:16.)

Returning to a loving Father is a different story. Realizing our need to be connected to the Vine; understanding the limitless, boundless love that God has for us, wanting from before the foundation of the world to adopt us as his own children; understanding how the cross restores our friendship with God by destroying sin and death and shame once and for all…

That’s a different story. (And doesn’t “sign you up” for anything.)

Now, I’m certainly painting with too broad a brush right now. Firstly, only a chapter or two before, Jesus addressed his disciples and the crowds following him, making sure they understood the cost of being his disciple. The cost is… everything. He said we need to be willing to give up everything (even family, wealth/possessions, a home), even our own life.

But the key is, nothing else matters outside of his Life. Nothing.

And that’s the point. Converting to a religion often satisfies our own accomplishable goals and benchmarks. There are “measurables” with Christianity. You can check things off like, reading your Bible, or having quiet time, joining a prayer group, or some other “small group”, going to services, volunteering for a ministry… or five ministries. All of those things can become “feathers” in our caps.

Jesus asks us to volunteer to be last, though. To not be noticed. To give up our dreams, turn the other cheek… all of that. And all because there is nothing we need or could ever want more than to know him.

Paul knew that, and wrote:

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. —Phil 3:8

Honestly, I could be convinced that I’m straining out gnats here. OR, I could be convinced that this is the pivotal, most important, fundamental part of the Gospel: Jesus matters.

It’s him. And nothing else. Not a religion (Christianity), not a building or an organization (First Christian Church of Wherever), and not even a set of benchmarks that you set up for yourself to take your spiritual temperature.

Do you trust him? Then you’re in. And your life will never be the same. If you believe that Jesus is Immanuel, God made flesh, the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life… buckle up!

That might be the same to you as “Christianity”, and if that’s the case, I’m really glad. My experience has been different. We people are good at maintaining control, and I think Jesus wants—longs for—us to relinquish that. Most often systems with fancy names—Christianity—don’t allow any room for that to happen, and even worse, they keep us in the “performance” mindset, where we’re always trying to “do better… for God, of course…

But Jesus’ words were always simply, “Follow me.”

I think it might really be that simple.

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 22nd

  1. I’d really recommend reading this post, too, if you’ve got the time. It was a very close second!

Hope

Hope1

Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

Hebrews 6:19

There are days. There are weeks, months and long years where … boy, it just feels like nothing is worth it. Am I right? I’m guessing, unless you have not lived long enough to experience a full enough breadth of human experience, that you most certainly know what I’m talking about.

I think this is what I was getting at in my recent post, What Motivates You? Hope. When there is hope, there is “motivation”. And love gives hope. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13)

Unless we have hope—that good is coming, that any effort we’re about to put forth is at all worthwhile, that things can change—there really is no point at all. We are hope—less.

How we arrive at such a place is more than understandable. Did you see yesterday’s post? There is a great darkness pervading our entire world—and it’s us. We are dark from the inside. A correlating “side effect” of the free ability to choose what is good and right and excellent, given to us by our Creator, is the ability to not choose those things, and even (much) worse things.

Much worse.

And yet, there remains a light in this world. The Light. Certainly Jesus, the God Man, is the Light of the World (he said that he is) … and so, too, are his people, The Church. Not always. And definitely not everyone who bears the name “church”. (See this post from earlier this summer…) But in every kindness shown, mercy given, forgiveness offered, selfless sacrifice made … he is there, and he is Light.

There is hope.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.

Hebrews 6:11

This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.

1 Timothy 4:10

As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3

It is clear to me that our one primary motive must be hope. Even if it is hope to satisfy some temporal, carnal nature in us—there still must be some promise of future fulfillment. Some reason for what we do.

There are SO many more references in scripture to “hope”. Please do read through as many as you have time for. Come back to it later, even.

And hope. Hold on to the hope we have in Jesus. Not just for a future kingdom—which will be beyond anything we can even dream right now—but in his kingdom now, the Kingdom of God that is near. Even in this present age of darkness.

He is here. With us. Forever.

And so we hope.

  1. “hope” © 2009 Evonne, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

What Motivates You?

Lacking motivation?

I currently feel very unmotivated. I am banging my head against so many metaphorical walls … and I’m not even making a dent. I’m juggling too many things, being pulled in too many directions, and not feeling any level of success in anything that I am setting out to do. Only failure, or what feels like failure.

What keeps you going? Why do you get out of bed in the mornings?

Or do you not?

I’m still moving. Pressing on. (Maybe running on the treadmill—or the hamster wheel—is a better analogy, but I am still moving.)

But I’m having to really stop and think about why. What is my motivation.

To be honest, partly it’s money. I need to earn money to buy the things our family needs. I need to pay off debts. I would love to make money to save for things we want, or want to do. That is certainly part of my daily motivation.

But that, in itself, is hollow, empty.

I love my family. I love to do things with and for them. That motivates me, but much of my day is spent doing things to earn money for our family, so I don’t get to spend as much time with my family as I’d like. (That’s certainly not my own private lament—I’d say most parents who work feel that lacking in their lives.) My love for them is certainly one of my motivations in life.

And definitely obligation, or a sense of duty will push me through when I’d just rather not. When I know my kids are counting on me, or my wife, or maybe even someone else, I will eke out the physical or emotional will power needed to accomplish whatever needs to be done.

Those are some of the things that can move me when I need moving. There are certainly a few more.

Personal comfort is a big one for me. I am VERY motivated to get those air conditioners cleaned up and locked in place when the first hot weather begins to roll in on us. I do not do well in heat and humidity! And… let me tell you, if there’s an offensive odor somewhere nearby, it doesn’t matter how tired I am, I will eliminate it!

Speaking of eliminating… what about when you really, really have to “go”, and there’s not a bathroom within 10 miles? When “nature calls” we can be pretty good at finding our motivation!

Jen knows a kind of personal comfort motivation, too. She doesn’t like pain; any physical discomfort will cause her to seek any way possible to remedy her situation. This includes hunger. She knows that the well-being of everyone around her depends on her not being hungry! Our physical appetites can certainly motivate us—food, drink, sex, even our pride, and desire for acceptance. These motivations can grow so strong that they become addictions.

Personal comfort is certainly a strong motivator.

Another one for me, somewhat related to personal comfort—in an oxymoronic, paradoxical kind of way—is healthiness. I have been walking most of this calendar year, and eating fresh, good food (and less of it) as many meals as I am able. It was something I really wanted to do for my body, and for my family (so I could be more “here”). There is some part that is “duty”-oriented to this motivation, but also, I do enjoy the quiet time alone, and I feel lighter, more alert—less heavy—and just much better, overall.

And of course, the law is another powerful motivation. Not sure if I’d wear seat belts, or restrain myself from using the cell phone while driving, or give the government-funded school system a detailed report of what we are teaching our kids unless I was compelled to by the laws and codes of our various governments.

But the apostle Paul said:

“For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us…”—2 Cor. 5:14 (AMP)

And also:

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”—Colossians 3:17

So then, love is our motivator. God’s love for us, and for everyone. And being a representative of Jesus—always, gratefully.

I think King Solomon, wisest man to ever live, asked these same questions, pondered these same thoughts. You may already be familiar with his conclusion, even if you don’t attribute it to him:

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” —Ecclesiastes 1:2

Really. Read Ecclesiastes when you’re feeling aimless, directionless, lacking motivation—it’ll pick ya right up!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.

(The entire book is this repeating theme of the meaninglessness of everything in life, good and bad. Truly a fascinating read!)

I have no answers. I still feel mostly unmotivated in life. It’s like much of my effort is not worth the effort—it will not have its desired effect, if I am even sure of what that is. I hope God will illuminate me, personally, in that regard. But perhaps he won’t. I know my ultimate motivation—reason for moving—is him. That’s it. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Stay connected to him, the Vine.

That, I know.

But what motivates you? Where do you find reason for your efforts? Impetus for your actions? Why try when our world is so, SO messed up? What does it matter?

Everything is meaningless.

I’d so love to hear your response. Please comment below and let’s do encourage one another with the things that move each of us—great or small—to get out of bed, and carry out a day… and even to do things that move the planet.

What motivates you?

An Open Letter Apology from the Church

church buildingNot that I have any real force behind this open letter to every person on the planet, but it’s what’s on my heart today. For so long, those who claim to know and live for God have been such a harmful representation of him (myself included) that many people wrongly dismiss their rightful place as a beloved, treasured son or daughter of the Creator of the universe.

Toward remedying that, I’d like to state the following:


To the people of planet Earth:

  • We, the church of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, must humbly ask your forgiveness for our self-righteous arrogance. Although we have known that there is freedom in Christ (for all), we have not partaken of this ourselves, nor do we offer it to anyone else—Christian brother or sister, nor our neighbors who do not identify with Jesus. Instead, we continue in the delusion that when we have general success over one temptation toward self gratification (or, sin) then we can claim righteousness of our own doing, setting ourselves apart from all others, and then condemning them for their inability to control their own unrighteousness and sinfulness—despite our own failures in so many other areas of our own lives, including the areas over which we presume mastery.
  • Likewise, we ask your forgiveness for proudly condemning sinfulness in you—again, despite knowing our own sinfulness, and either willingly ignoring it, or dismissing it as “not as bad as yours”. We know that Jesus said he did not come to condemn the world, but to save it, and that he wants for us to have life abundantly. That is not exclusive to existing “club” members, but an offer to each of us who breathe this air. Equally, and unconditionally. God does not show favoritism.
  • We humbly ask you to forgive our hard-line stance on doctrines, which have caused divisions even amongst ourselves for centuries and centuries. Jesus said that we would be known by our love—first for fellow believers, then for all others—and we have mostly been a disastrous example of that, only putting our agendas and doctrines and “rightness” ahead of love for each other, and love for you. Divisiveness fueled by lust for power, selfish ambition, as well as hatred and envy, and again the ever-present, horribly ugly self-righteousness we constantly wear. Please forgive us for loving right doctrine more than loving our neighbors.
  • We, the church, ask you to forgive us for not acknowledging that our true citizenship is not of one earthly nation, nor even of this temporary mortal existence, and in such a state of willful ignorance, repeatedly indulging the lusts of our flesh: pride, materialism and greed, and gluttonies of many kinds—all while mostly living as uninvolved, presumably “unaffected” bystanders, offering to “pray for” anyone in need (more often than actually getting into the mess of hurt and suffering in which many of our neighbors find themselves every day). Please forgive our inactions to this point, and while we know that we can’t make right every wrong in a broken world, we want to live each moment remembering the grace we’ve been extended, and extend that to you, our fellow human beings.
  • We also ask you to forgive the many times our desire to own the only truth has hurt you. Words, once uttered, can not be rescinded. Actions may even be harder to take back. In humility, understanding that we are no better than anyone else, we ask for your forgiveness and wish to restore with you a relationship like Jesus had with all of those with whom he interacted—who would receive him: one of kindness, acceptance, gentleness, no agenda, no desire to control or demand to conform, and no thought to the “reputation” of the person with whom he abided.

May His True Kingdom come.

Grace and Mercy, and the fullness of Jesus Love and Peace we extend to you,
—The Church, Jesus’ beloved bride


The saddest thing is, if we (the church) would simply acknowledge our own imperfection, brokenness, and that we are all created equal (meaning God does not show favoritism, making any of us better by birth than anyone else on the planet) then the Gospel would not be so readily and widely dismissed.

Now, I am not naive (at least, not entirely) … I realize that since God has given us the ability to choose, even if the church were the perfect messenger—being humble, acknowledging imperfection, and only extending grace, mercy, and love and justice to all—every last person on the planet still must choose to believe that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (because He wants to, and he invites us to trust him with all that we are, all he has given us). AND, there most certainly is evil in the world. And sin.

And so, there will always be brokenness.

We, the church are broken individuals, and a sadly broken Body. We are made whole in Christ, but as we remain in this world, cursed in sin, we do not yet enjoy the fullness of that wholeness.

But we can endeavor to simply do what is just, love mercy, and walk each step with God in palpable, real humility.

If that were so, fellow Pale Blue Dot dweller, we would know a very different world.

The Bible Tells Me So

Old Bible Cover“Yes, Jesus loves me… The Bible tells me so!”

Perhaps you sang those words just now as you read them because they are indelibly engrained upon your soul from countless repetitions in your early childhood. (And maybe you still sing them regularly with your own kids.)

It’s a great song, and it’s true.

The Bible does tell me that Jesus loves me. In many different ways, through all of the books; this central message reverberates: the God who is made me and loves me and invites me to Life with him.

Sometimes it’s fascinating to me how differently we apparently see and interact with the Bible.

What is the Bible? Is it a reference manual for Christian living? Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? Those things have definitely been said of this collection of ancient books.

Rather than a Owner’s Guide or User’s Manual, might it be a collection of stories God wanted to tell us … with him as the main character? Does God reveal who he is through the story that weaves its way through dozens of authors over many centuries, even millennia?

Stories seemed to be Jesus favorite vehicle for communicating the meaningful.

How about this one: Is it infallible? Does it ever claim to be? Does it need to be?

I mentioned in my post about heretical thinking earlier this week that sometimes I have even questioned the reasons for inclusion of certain books in the cannon of what we call Scripture. The Catholics have additional books of “Scripture”, as do the Latter-Day Saints. (Though there are certainly differences there as the Catholic apocrypha was from a similar era as the books that are accepted as inspired Scripture while the Book of Mormon and other additional books included by LDS believers are from a later point in history—at least their translation.)

Here’s the thing, though… how much of all that matters?

I have been reading through the Bible, cover-to-cover for a little over a year now. (The slow pace due partly to meandering through various other points in Scripture simultaneously, as well as, of course, many other books. There’s only so much time in a day, you know!) In this current journey through its pages I am reading many familiar verses and stories, as well as many I don’t think I have ever actually read. (Certainly not in their proper context.)

What strikes me the most is the story. Flowing through the entirety of Scripture are small stories and big stories, all telling a larger story.

God so loved the world that before anything ever existed, he knew you intimately, and orchestrated a grand plan to allow us to realize his boundless love for all of mankind—and each individual Image Bearer—and to restore a friendship with him that we didn’t even know was irreparably damaged. (Irreparable from our vantage point.)

Story after story reveals the struggle between we of free will and limited knowledge, understanding, and vision … and he of limitless patience, kindness, mercy—our Father, who dearly loves his children. And we who only barely understand Love, struggle to understand Him—for He is Love.

I am re-learning that Scripture really can not be seen as a giant reference guide of proof texts. And it’s certainly not a how-to manual for bringing judgment upon the world, or even upon yourself.

Nor is it to be venerated or worshipped. It’s a book. (A library, might be more accurate.)

Anything we set up between us and our Creator (including the Bible, “Christian” discipline, and even “church” activities and involvement) can become an idol that ends up keeping us from the full life God intends for us when our eyes (and hearts) are fixed on him.

And one thing I have learned from this tour through the Old Testament: God does not like idolatry!

So we will take verses like:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.—2 Timothy 3:16

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.—2 Peter 1:20-21

And we say that these prove that the Bible is infallible. But do they? Paul is reminding Timothy, his student/disciple that Scripture is useful; I certainly agree there, don’t you? And Peter says that prophets were inspired by God. Again, no argument there.

But I’m not sure God himself (nor the pages of Scripture) claim infallibility nor inerrancy, do they? Perhaps the test of prophecies being that all will be proven true as a proof of the origin of the messages—that being from the Creator God, the God of Israel.

And still, I think I digress. As this topic of conversation is so wont to do.

When we make the Bible (and discussions of these books) about being right or wrong, we just get lost in endless quarrels. So many fractured opinions and vehement discourse to prove one point or another end up making Christians and their church look like it does today: silly.

I will maintain that all of Scripture is useful, even the giant sections that give every messy, gory detail of our own ugliness. Not just the things we proudly label sin like murder, lust, idolatry, rape, incest, greed, deceit and betrayal (and many more) … but our lack of faith in vividly displayed, our repeatedly running to idols and our own strength and knowledge rather than abiding in Father’s Life and Love.

This is why, as Christians, and living in the age we now inhabit, Jesus is the decoder ring. Everything else makes a bit more sense when we start with him.

The book of Hebrews1 says that God spoke in many ways through history, but his final and fullest revelation was through his son, Jesus. And also we learn and see that he is the full representation of God himself. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. God himself, as a man. We don’t get his messages second-hand through angels and/or prophets: he came to us.

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.2

If you’re reading the Bible like a manual, or an reference book—please stop. First, you’re missing out on the bigger, fuller story. You might even be missing out on Jesus:

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”—John 5:24

It’s so easy to do. I think we all do it. I mean, how magically incredible is this book we call the Bible? Really! Preserved nearly flawlessly over millennia, and with enemies trying to wipe it out: but it is the most ubiquitous book still today.

But the Bible is not our source of life, Jesus is.

And, it’s important to remember that we have a direct connection to Truth in Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember this?

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.—1 John 2:27

Holy Spirit will teach us everything. It’s always nice to have a tutor. (Especially when the tutor is the finest teacher ever!)

The Bible is a beautiful story, and we can glean so much life through its pages, through the stories told there, and especially the central story told throughout of our God’s ever-present love and care for his people. (That’s all of us, not just those born into the family of Jacob, as they used to imagine.)

It’s not about rules, or doctrine. It’s about Him. I highly recommend reading it like a book, like a story…

And look for the signs of Life as they weave in and out of His story.

God’s story, with us.

Incredible.


For further reading, here’s an article I found a real long time ago: Why "The Bible is our Instruction Manual" is the Worst Metaphor in the History of the World | The Ruthless MonkThe Ruthless Monk.

Also, one last note: For what it’s worth, I really do recommend reading in large chunks. There is certainly a place for detailed, intricate, line-by-line study, but there’s also great treasure to be found in reading through whole books at a time, or at least larger chunks. Then string books together back-to-back over a few days or weeks. When I read Scripture like this, the bigger story is much more evident, and I see God moving in his characteristic, Jesus-shown ways through the whole of history. Different voices, echoing the same story: God loves me.

  1. Hebrews 1-4 Yes… all four chapters! Reading in big chunks gives better context. 🙂
  2. John 14-17 (Again, read the whole thing. Chock full of greatness!)

Pray… Why?

pray

Do you ever wonder why we pray? I mean, God is love, he’s all knowing, he’s sovereign, omni-everything, right? So… why should I reiterate what he already knows, especially since he also knows what comes next?

Yes. So have I.

In fact, I often wonder all of that while I am praying.

It happens when I make nearly every request of any kind. “God, my friend’s grandma has so many health issues right now … which… you already know, but… well, it would be nice if you could, I mean… I know you CAN… so, they’d like for her to be healed, obviously… except, if you know a reason—I mean, of course you DO have a reason, and know one… if you do…—for her to not be healed, then we want that, instead of what we’re asking. I’m pretty sure. InJesusNameAmen.”

Something like that.

But, really… if God knows everything, and we really do trust him with all that we are (and whatever is, and is to come) then… why do we pray?

Some of Jesus’ most famous words are what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. He precedes this “Lord’s Prayer” with the words, “When you pray… you should pray like this:”

That sounds important. We like “How To”s.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.

OK. Holy. Different. Other. Remember that we are not God, that he is, and keep our perspective properly calibrated. Got it.

May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.

It really can be lousy here sometimes. So I understand why we should ask for this. But every time? Maybe it is a perspective thing again? It does remind us that we are not in control. We don’t get to pick when God’s Kingdom will exist “on earth, as it does in heaven”.

We really don’t. Have you seen the news lately? The crazy abortion guy in Philadelphia? The government is getting more and more intrusive, says the NSA Whistleblower? Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes… deaths and destruction? The Middle East is always on fire, everyone wanting everyone else dead (and working hard to make it happen).

Yuck. And that’s just the “world out there”. Don’t we all have our own messes?

Yep. We do.

I’m definitely on board with this, “May your Kingdom come soon” part.

Give us today the food we need,

OK, daily provision. Not a week’s (or month’s!) worth of food in the fridge and freezer and pantry… daily food. Sounds like another reminder for us that we need God. More perspective.

Apparently Jesus knows we need lots of perspective adjustment each time we talk with God?

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Huh. Look at that. More perspective setting.

First, we are sinners. (Forgive our sin…) That’s perspective right there. I don’t have it all together. I’m not without blame, error, nor evil.

But the second part is the other perspective setter: forgive as we forgive others who have wronged us.

Hmm. So our own forgiveness (before we even get to ask God about what we were praying for in the first place …) is dependent upon how forgiving we are to people who are mean to us?

Looks like it.

But I don’t think it’s just God saying, “Lalalalala.. I’m not LIST-en-ing…. until you forgive your brother! Oh, and your neighbors, too, while you’re at it.” I think we’re back to the perspective setting. How can we ask for, and expect God to forgive our wrongs when we won’t do the same for somebody else?

We really can’t.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Satan. The Evil One. One, not just … evil, as a generic term. So another perspective adjustment, this time to remember that our battle is not with flesh and blood, but a very real, spiritual one.

I understand. Paul says this in Galatians:

“So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. (Gal 5:16-17)

Everyday, all day there is a war inside me. One side wanting to serve self, the other to deny self; preferring submission to Spirit, and often to others.

It makes sense, then, to first remember the battle exists, and is ongoing, and also to ask for help standing up against it.

Wait. What? Where’s the rest? Where’s the, “And please help Aunt Mary…” or the “And I need a [fill in the need blank]…”?

They aren’t there.

Jesus did perhaps add “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” That line is in some manuscripts we have, and not in others.

But there is still not a “Insert your [real] requests here…” part.

Fascinating, huh?

So Jesus said, “When you pray, pray like this.” And nearly all of it is just perspective rebuilding. Maybe it’s just important that we remember (1) there is a powerful, loving God, and (2) you’re not him.

(Neither am I.)

So, for the sake of context, In the previous paragraphs, Jesus makes sure that his disciples know that praying is not for show. In fact, he says pray in your closet. (Do you do that? I don’t think I ever have…) He also says don’t “babble on and on”. More words does not mean more power. Apparently, it’s not like having more raffle tickets gets you a better chance of winning the prize.

And later on, in the next chapter (chapters being as we have divided them, post-Jesus) he gets back to the topic of prayer with these words:

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

So … don’t use a lot of words, but… ask a lot? Not sure what Jesus is trying to say here, other than trust your Father.

Maybe that is all he’s trying to say?

God is good. (And he is God.) He loves you, far better than even the best dad could. He’s listening, and wants to forgive wrongs, and protect from future bad choices.

Remind us who we are, and who you are, God.

And that’s how—and why—to pray.

Opposite World

I’m different. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I know we’re all unique. (And since unique means ‘one of a kind’, well then, how can there be a ‘different’—since there is no ‘normal’, nor ‘standard’?)

But I’m really different.

It’s quite nearly every single thing that could possible be ‘different’.

Allow me to list a few examples:

  • I love cold and dark weather.
  • The contents of my pockets are opposite from most everyone else I know.
  • I drink tea, not coffee.
  • All alcohol is offensive to me. (Aside from rubbing alcohol, I suppose…)
  • I tend to fit the female “profile” more than the male (too many ways to list in this format)
  • I prefer books over movies.
  • I like audio over video.
  • I don’t even get “fads” or “trends” (especially in clothes, but really in all things)
  • I home school my kids.
  • I am in Jesus, and his church, but I do not align myself with any “named” organization you’d think of as “church”.
  • I don’t vote any party line.
  • I can’t be not real. I think “can’t” might actually be accurate.
  • I really care nothing for money.
  • I also care nothing for fame. (In fact, I’d rather not have any particular attention paid to me.)

I’m not completely a freak. I mean… I do like NHL hockey (there are a handful of people who are in that boat with me), I have a Facebook account (again, not in the minority there), and I’m a huge Buffalo Bills fan.

Oh yeah… that one should probably go in that list above… 🙂

SO, I am not sure why God decided to make me his prime example of the Opposite World, but there must be some design in it. He calls me (along with all of you) his “masterpiece”, so …

The good thing is, it kinda matches Jesus.

The greatest of all is the servant of all? Lose your life to gain it? Turn the other cheek? He who is without sin cast the first stone?

Yeah. That kind of opposite.

Maybe we’re meant to be at least a little opposite. Are there ways you feel “opposite”, or backwards, or different, or strangely unique? If not … are there ways you wish you were, and are just afraid of what other people might think if they knew you were “strangely unique”?

Jesus didn’t seem to care about what other people thought of him.

Except one time.

His disciples were telling him that people were talking about him. They were saying he was the reincarnation of their favorite prophet, looking for some way to label him.

Jesus probably nodded, taking in what they were saying, and then he turned their story back to them with a simple question: “Who do you say that I am?”

Maybe in that question we can hear that it doesn’t really matter what other people think. It matters what you think.

God definitely made me “different”. But you are, too. You are unique. There’s something about you that he loves more than any of his other creations.

It’s the “you” part.

I’d wager I’m not the only one living in Opposite World. For some reason it frequently becomes obvious just how blatantly opposite I am, but I know I’m not alone.

In whatever way you are you … be that. Live it. Enjoy it.

There’s always plenty of room here in Opposite World!