Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lent 36: I Have a Complaint...

My pastor has this saying that I love (I don't know if he coined it, or if he borrowed this from someone else): "it's much easier to ACT like a Christian than it is to REACT like a Christian." It sounds like one of those buzzy one liners. But it's really quite true. 

I have trouble reacting like a Christian all the time. I often ask for prayer about this issue: "I don't feel like my light is shining at work, so please pray for to get my attitude together." If something I don't like goes down at work--instant attitude.

I previously noted that during this 40 days of Lent, I've found that the prayer challenge book I'm reading (and the resultant prayers) seem coincidentally (or divinely) linked to the readings I've had to do for this 40 days of blogs. This morning, I prayed:

Lord, help me to turn my complaints into prayers. Complaining does nothing. But prayer can change everything. So, all of today has been an experiment in this. And it has shown me a few things:
  • I have a ton of complaints
  • It felt more productive to pray about them than go on a rant in my mind
  • I was less angry
So, I was shocked when I realized this was (in some way) connected to today's reading:

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
 - James 1:19-27
This one is long. And all of it is pertinent information, but I guess I'll just focus on the beginning, where we are given three rules to live by: 
  1. Be quick to hear
  2. Slow to speak
  3. Slow to anger
Because I've historically read the Bible piecemeal, I had my own idea about what this scripture meant. It meant: when engaging in communication with other people, be a good listener. Hear them out. Be slow to speak, because a thoughtless/careless word could be damaging. And finally, be slow to anger. Words and actions done in the heat of anger can be detrimental to healthy relationships.

All of that is true, but none of that is what this scripture is about. Why I didn't realize this is beyond me. This scripture is just the continuation of yesterdays scripture about temptation. And so what this scripture is actually saying is pretty convicting.

WHEN your temptation and it's accompany trial/tribulation comes:
  1. Be quick to hear - To hear what? The word of God. Godly counsel. Sound advice. You are in a situation, in which the temptation and the trial may seem the loudest. But God is talking. We need to be quick to hear what He is saying.
  2. Slow to speak - Shut up that complaining. This one really got me. No one can bellyache through a trial like I can. I blame God for various things (which yesterday we noted that God is not to blame). I say a lot of faith-less things while I'm going through. I generally say a LOT, and I'm quick to say it. I remember two years ago, I was "Esau" which was my way of declaring that God hated me. Now that seems so dumb, but that was me being slow to hear, and quick to speak.
  3. Slow to anger - Stop being so mad and go through. This is a doozie right here. I'm busy being mad that I'm forgetting the buzzy one liners I heard at service. Temptations and trials come to make us better not bitter. Yet, I have been very bitter at times. Very mad.
To what end? Anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Which means that is the lesson we should learn. The refining that is happening in the fire of trial/temptation is not accomplished in our anger. But it's accomplished in our humility. We have to stop being just hearers of the words, and be doers of it all. It's easy to ACT like a Christian. It's easy to read the words in the Bible and pray some prayers, but let our temptation come. Let our trial come by. And suddenly we're behaving like unbelievers. OR, this is where you shine. We all know the people who go through trials/tests like CHAMPS. Like, this person puts you to both public and private shame. But everyone is not at the same level. I'm definitely not there. I complain.

But our angry complaints don't accomplish the righteousness of God. But our prayers do. Prayers include confession, which can put away all filthiness and what remains of wickedness. And nothing says humility like getting on your knees (though you don't have to pray on your knees). But prayer is a humble act.

Turn angry complaints into humble prayers.

...at least, that's what I'm going to try to do.

Monday, March 30, 2015

35 days of Lent: Temptation

Have you ever heard the phrase "there's plenty of blame to go around?" It's generally a true statement. In any situation where something goes wrong...you can keep peeling away layer after layer of blame. 

I once shot a gun out of a window when I was a kid. My father was a police officer, and I plotted and planned my way into its hiding place. Who was to blame?
  • Kid Kristen - why did she do this bad thing? 
  • Dad - why didn't he have the gun locked in a safe? 
  • Gun - why do you exist? 
There's possibly more blame to go around, but that's all I could think of. But what was really to blame was the life cycle of temptation. There is a course that temptation follows:  
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. 
- James 1:13-18

What I found two things about this scripture cool (though there are probably dozens): 
  1. God is not to blame for your temptation 
  2. There is a natural progression/ life-cycle for temptation 
God gets blamed for a lot of things: natural disasters, death, good things happening to bad people, etc. Even Job proclaimed "though HE slay me" (Job 13:15). God IS responsible for a lot of things, but He's not responsible for our moral failures. He doesn't make husbands cheat on their wives. He doesn't make people file fraudulent tax returns. God doesn't "set you up." 

But rather there is a process to sin. A life cycle. 

But it doesn't seem like that. The most famous instance of temptation in the Bible sort of seems...like a set-up: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

Why was that tree in the garden of Eden? Why was the tree forbidden of Adam and Eve? But the

tree wasn't even a problem until (1) lust was conceived:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
- Genesis 3:4-6

life cycle

This scripture is amazing because Eve had lived with the tree for a long time prior to now, and it had never looked this way before. Suddenly it looked good. And suddenly it was the source of wisdom. But it's what she saw. Sure, Satan showed it to her, but no one can show you something that you refuse to look at. She let that seed take root.

And then she (2) took the fruit and ate it (gave birth to sin). And the result was (3) death . The entrance of death onto the world stage/separation from God through sin.

Three stages, and God wasn't involved in any of them. He didn't create the lust. He didn't puppeteer Adam and Eve into the sinful action that separated them from God. He simply can't take that blame.

What God has done is made a way to get out of the cycle: 

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  
- 1 Corinthians 10:13

Temptation is common. Escape from it is uncommon. Sometimes I wonder if I have been ignoring my escape routes! I almost never think about temptation. Maybe because it has become too common, and it's life cycle has become part of my life cycle. But escape is available. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lent day 34: Count it All Joy

Sometimes I find myself saying:

"I wish I could go back to being 25."

Then I pause, and say: "...knowing what I know now, of course." And the other person nods their assent, "of course, of course." Why is it that we can only go back like that? Why wouldn't anyone want to go back clueless? Because then it would likely just be a repeat of the same old crap, a re-take of the same tests. You'd have to rebuild that valuable knowledge.

Sometimes, I fear I'm in a cycle of "the same old crap" because I'm refusing to gain the valuable knowledge that comes through a completed experience. In one of my old blogs, Run Without Stopping, I wrote about how I couldn't run long distances. I didn't know how to break the cycle of run, walk, run, walk. In that blog, I was so psyched to report that I could run 3 miles without stopping! I started so small, but it taught me a huge lesson about endurance. It taught me about pushing through discomfort, pain, and fatigue to build greater strength. To build greater ability.

That blog is three years old. So, three years ago, I was a start-and-stop runner. Today I've run three marathons. My body has been tested. And it has passed. There were definitely times when I thought I couldn't make it, but all those training runs prepared me. All those times I was doubled over on the side of the road prepared me. All the times I had to call somebody to pick me up, because I'd run too far and didn't have the strength to run back prepared me. All the injuries, the heating pads, the ice packs, the chaffing, and the toenails that fell off...and the one that may never come back? They all prepared me. To me, all that preparation had a perfect result: finisher medals.

Which brings me to today's scripture which is James 1:1-12, but I'm focusing on:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  
- James 1:2-4

Before I embark on this, I want to say: I hate running analogies. So if you hate them too, I'm so sorry. But it's just my real world experience, so I have nothing else that's comparable.

Consider it All Joy

I've always thought this was a ridiculous thing to say. The first part of the scripture (in v.1) says that's to the 12 tribes who have been scattered abroad. So, this is written to Christian Jews who have been exiled and scattered. People who have fled persecution, and yet still encounter persecution. And James says: look at it as a good thing when all this bad things happen, testing your faith.

No. Bad things are bad. But he doesn't mean good as in "this is awesome" but rather as in "this is profitable" and "this is productive" in ways you can't see immediately.

I remember when I first started running, I found ways to "count it all joy." I would imagine myself winning the race (which was impossible). I would run and imagine all these amazing things happening to me on the race day: like reporters interviewing me, asking me how I did it. I imagined myself crossing the finish line. Sometimes I just imagined myself being able to go home and update my FB status to say: 14 miles. I knew the training (though horrible) was getting me somewhere. It was profitable. It was productive. 

Even right now, I have a hard time doing that with trials. I have a hard time praying all the way through. I have a hard time believing all the way through. I often have "start-and-stop faith." And so, I think sometimes I have to repeat the same old crap. I have to keep re-building my strength to simply run 3 spiritual miles, and so I'm not quite trained up for the marathon. It's really difficult, because I don't know what my finish line is. I don't know exactly what the result is. But I want to start looking at every prayer session, at every fast, at every quiet time as a training run. Full of possibility and imagination. I need to start imagining my prayers answered in a hundred different ways. I need to start dreaming up divine appointments. And start mentally updated my prayer status as: prayed without ceasing? Nope, but close.  And that way, even when my prayer time feels so desperate and painful that I want to stop, I'll know and believe that it's getting me somewhere.

And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him.
 - 1 John 5:15
So even unanswered prayers. Even tearful exchanges are profitable. Productive.

Let Endurance Have its Perfect Result

I've never noticed this wording. Let endurance have it's perfect result. It implies that if we give up we have imperfect results. Endurance has a perfect result and what I love is that the result is YOU. This is like (clearly) a much bigger deal than getting a medal around my neck, or hitting a new personal record for time. The result is that YOU are perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

I'm not sure what it means, but I think after I've pushed through life's discomfort, pain, and fatigue, I'll come out of with stronger faith, and that faith will have greater ability.

And that makes all the discomfort/pain/fatigue worth enduring, because I'm sick of imperfect results. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day 33: Get it Back!

the good old days
Today I went out to lunch with some co-workers, and we were looking at photos of an old corporate holiday party. And we were saying things like: "those were the days!" and "that was the best party!" And it seems completely true. That particular holiday party was the first party I'd gone to with my new company. It was my first time really kicking it dance-party style with all my new DC friends, and it is truly a grand memory. But there's no going back. I can't renew Holiday Party 2009.

 Then I thought about something else that I loved from the past. Maybe I'm a  huge nerd.

 But...LOST! That was, in my opinion (and in fact), the best television show ever. Every episode was full of pure intrigue. At one point, I watched some of it again and realized that I had missed things. It was still good! And my fanaticism was renewed. I can still debate some of the finer points of that finale with anyone who won't just walk away from me.

I <3 Sawyer
I'm a fan of the word "renew" which means: 
  • to make fresh or strong again
  • to begin again, especially with more force or enthusiasm 
I like to think that everything can be renewed. But it really can't. Like a re-upholstered chair. Is that old? Is it new? Is it renewed? In the natural world, once old...it's likely always old. But emotionally and spiritually, things can get renewed over and over again. 

Some things (even things you don't want) you can get back, and some things you can't. Today's scripture is super common. So, I wanted to come at it from a slightly different angle:  

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 

This scripture starts with the word "Therefore" which means that the following request is based on prior information. The prior information is not actually just in the last two verses of Romans chapter 11. It's more like the entire preceding 11 chapters. Since this is a letter, and not a "book" it's being written all at once, and read all at once. And so prior in the letter, Paul had talked about a few key things that I will briefly recap: 
  1. We were doomed. Romans 3:11-20 talks about how the whole wide world is guilty of sin. That no one is good. That no one even is looking for God. Doomed.  
  2. Despite being guilty, through faith in Christ, we could be justified and suddenly not doomed. Romans 5:1-8 explains how happy we are (it says we "exult") to have peace with God through Christ. 
  3. But even though we're happy, and justified...we still do bad stuff (Romans 7:21-25) and we sometimes feel like we're messing it all up. Like we're ruining this thing that Jesus did in #2, plunging ourselves back into #1, but... 
  4. We're wrong about that! We can't mess it up as long as we are believing and trusting in Christ, because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).   
 And that (give or take a bunch of chapters) is what leads us to "therefore" and my commentary of what you can and what you can't get back.  

Present Your Body a Living Sacrifice

This may or may not be true, but I'm going to take a commentator's word for what this command is reminiscent of. Supposedly this command is a parallel to the command for the "whole burnt offering" that Jews had to give in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 1; Leviticus 6:8-13). The thing about the whole burnt offering, is that it completely burned up. In some offerings, there were like leftovers. There was a piece that the priest could keep. Or maybe you only brought part of something to offer on the altar. But the whole burnt offering was just that: whole. It was everything...and it burned completely. It burned all night. There was nothing left. It was consumed.

That's what is in view when we are urged to present our own bodies as a living sacrifice. It makes the choice to follow Christ seem weightier doesn't it when you think of it like that? You're giving everything up to God.

And...you can't get it back.

Do not be Conformed, but Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind

Again, we see "the world" that we talked about in previous blogs; which is "human culture as influenced by Satan."  We live in this world. We don't go untouched by it at all. And so Paul tells us to avoid the same old, same old. We were already old. We thought like the old world system. We talked like the old world system. And once you've presented your life to God, it's like...you can't stay in that old mold.  But rather, we have to be transformed, by what? The renewing of our mind. Our minds were made new the minute we heard the gospel. A new mind and a regenerated heart. If you only heart it once, you'd start to show signs of serious wear and tear. You'd get old. But we have to keep hearing, keep praying, keep seeking, keep renewing our mind with the gospel, and it becomes like a fount of water in your heart: 

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.
 - John 7:38
 In short, all that joy and peace you felt the first day you believed....

You can get it back. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

THIRTY-TWO: Comforted

Sometimes, you just have a really crappy day. For me, this day wasn't all the way crappy, but it started out pretty bad. Where nothing seems right. Nothing is as it should be, though I have no idea how things should be.

I generally have a method for cheering myself up. I haven't used it in a while, but it goes like this:
  • Ben & Jerry's Everything but the... Ice Cream
  • Lays Original Ruffles with Sour Cream and Leek Dip
  • Either Sugar and Spice or  High Fidelity
That used to be the formula. Then it was going for a run. Then it was red wine and Korean dramas. Comfort. All of these things were designed to create a sense of comfort. It soothed away the ills of the day. It encouraged me to feel light. And free.

But there is a source of comfort that is greater than Ben & Jerry's. Better than High Fidelity. Better even than a glass of good Malbec. And that's today's verses.

I kind of wanted to cop out on today's blog. I thought about just posting the verses and letting them speak for themselves. Because it's simply comforting! Beautiful really. I love those moments when the language in the Bible just strikes you as "pretty."

That's today's verse:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
- Revelation 21:1-4

You know what's interesting about these verses? Is that everything in them is "new." I generally comfort myself with things that are old and familiar. But the old and familiar won't cut it. Not when it comes to my whole life. Not when it comes to forever. In that realm...I need something new. To have an eternal comfort, I need something that I haven't seen before: 
  1. New Heaven and New Earth
  2. Behold! (who doesn't love the world "behold?"), God is right there, living next to you. Communing with you. Kicking it with you! 
  3. No more death, sadness, crying or pain. Those old things have passed away.
why does heaven look like Oz?
The familiarity of grief, sadness, and disappointment will be replaced by something new. I think that's super exciting. I cried just this morning, so I can appreciate the idea of every tear being wiped from your eyes. That's a new thing. To not have a reason for tears! No more death...when death is so familiar that we're kind of desensitized to it. 24 plane crashes in 15 months...that's what I saw on the news today. And it was horrible. I can't wait for the new day where nothing like that can happen. No more grief. No more crying or pain. Why? 

Because old things are over, and everything is new. 

That's so comforting. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

31st Day of Lent: Count the Cost

June and I are going on vacation in May, and we spent a fair amount of time figuring out how much it would cost. Why? Because it would suck to be 1/2 way through the trip and realize this trip should have been one week instead of two. No one wants to figure out what is the Czech Republic's equivalent of Easy Mac.

Food is where the cuts happen when you don't have enough money on a trip. Lots of things (flight, hotel, tours) are all prepaid, so at the point where you're running out of money...your food budget gets tight. And for me that would be the saddest thing because I believe there is no cost too great for an amazing meal. June, for the most part, agrees but she has a limit. Not me! Do you have a tasting menu? I want it. Wine pairings? Yes, please! June once talked me out of a caviar tasting because (admittedly) I had no idea what constituted good caviar. Looking back, I regret this a little.

It's not that I'm broke, but I do have to travel with a plan. With a budget. With an idea of what this is going to cost me. We have to make sure the trip is something we can afford. That way, whatever euro-denominated menu prices come flying my way, I know without a doubt:

I can pay.

It seems so basic, so natural, that I was surprised to see this concept in scripture:

 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.“Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
 - Luke 14:25 - 35
This scripture starts out with two disqualifications for discipleship:

Disqualification #1: You don't hate your family and your very life
Disqualification #2: You don't carry a cross

Time out. I feel like I've spent weeks saying you have to love people with a supernatural love, and now Jesus is saying I have to hate people? And what does it mean to carry a cross?

--PAUSE--You know what we almost never get to read in the scriptures? The aftermath of the stuff Jesus says. The crowd is just flowing along after Jesus, and He turns around and say this? I feel like the bible should have little shock-faced emoticons in it. Or drawings of people walking away slowly, muttering "I guess there's no free bread and fish today..."--UNPAUSE--

This is actually a difficult scripture to comment on. Overall, we know what this means: everything you love is subordinate to Christ. Christ wants our full devotion.

But why couldn't He just say that?! Why use this strong language? Because we can't conceptual what "full devotion" costs. And you don't know if you can pay if you don't know the costs. So these were the costs:
  • Can you give up on everyone who's ever known you and created your identity as somebody's son, brother, husband, etc.? And find your identity only in Christ? Can you give up your future plans and find your future in the will of God? 
  • Can you live as someone who is dead to this world? Carrying the cross is not a symbol of pain and suffering (though that happens on a cross). But the cross is where you die. And in this sense, you die following Christ. 
And you would be following Christ's example:

...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 
 - Philippians 2:6-8

 So...can you pay the costs? 

That's a doozie. When you put it like that, it sounds really, really hard. Why does it sound hard? Because I have an only partially transformed mind. But I do believe that ultimately, I'll be able to pay. This declaration doesn't make me want to give up.

I wonder how many people, when they heard Jesus say this, turned around? I wonder how many people thought: "This guy is the real deal" and kept going? But that separation of people: people who were just going along vs. followers wasn't really based on who had the willpower and the fortitude to walk out on their families and carry crosses to their death. It was (as usual) about faith. Who had enough faith to stay on this journey with Christ? Who had enough faith to be empowered to finish what they started?

That's why I know...even though I'm short on funds now:

I can pay.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day 30: Horrible Bosses

Do you have a favorite boss? 
My first job was at Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I remember my boss, his name, what he looked like, etc. He liked that I dressed up for the interview. I was 15 and I thought I was doing something special, so I had to be dressed up. Buuuuuut, he was mean. Not my favorite boss. 

At some point during high school, I worked at Sears Roebuck, Co. I remember my boss, her name, her style of dress. I remember I used to hide out in the kid's department playing Tetris, or curl up beneath racks of clothes to sleep when I felt sick. She always found out. And she was always mad. Not my favorite boss.

To call center bosses, to payday advance place bosses, to audit firm bosses (of which you have many)...I had a lot. And truthfully, I didn't like all that many. Not favorites.

So, when I settled on my favorite boss, I realized he was one of the only bosses I actually prayed for. Like I didn't pray for him to be a better boss. I didn't pray for him to get off my back. I prayed for his life. For his wife and kid. For his stress levels. For his faith. I think that makes him a shoe-in for favorite boss. And he's not really that nice of a guy. He's very abrupt. He delivers biting criticism. And I'm not sure he believes in life after 6pm (because he used to send e-mails at all hours of the night). But he is really smart! He lets it be known if he thinks you're smart, and he always thanks you for your work. He's a good boss. 

What's the point of this? Well, today's reading was material that I've covered extensively in the blog over the years, and I felt I had to dig deep in order to find something "new" to write about. Today's reading is (again) from the Sermon on the Mount, it's Matthew 6:19-34. But I focused on just this piece: 
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
 - Matthew 6:24

And it made me think: who's your favorite boss?
I think this scripture is interesting because to me it's always seem very ho-hum. But, I'm not sure I knew what this scripture meant (probably still don't). But this is my chain of thinking:

Thought #1 - Jesus says no one can serve two masters
Then he goes on to describe what it would be like to serve two masters...  Perhaps that's what I get for being too literal. But I wonder: is it impossible? I mean, in this age of multitasking, why not?

Thought #2: Why God vs. wealth?
Every time I read this I think "You cannot serve God and Satan" seemed like the more logical sentence. But I guess, there's not a ton of people out there who are choosing between those two. "Do I serve God today? ...nah, I have an all-day meeting with Satan and his minions." It just doesn't happen like that. But likewise, it doesn't necessarily go like this: "Do I serve God today? ...Nope, gotta chase that paper!" 
In this scripture, the talk of master and servant is not like today's at-will employment. This description is more akin to slavery. To ownership. To exclusivity. So in that regard you can't have two masters. 
Yet, the way Jesus positioned this implies the following:

You can choose your owner.

And a choice has to be made, because even if you could serve two masters... Even if you could multitask God and Wealth...they have different objectives: 
  1. Serve God - build God's kingdom
  2. Serve Wealth - build my kingdom 
Two tasks, one set of resources. And this creates the problem Jesus talks about. When you have two tasks and one set of resources, one takes precedence (love and devotion) and the other...is subordinate. One gets done, and the other doesn't.

And it comes down to trust. I don't generally go into word origins, but the word for wealth (mammon) comes from the root word "mn" (no vowels?!) which means something in which one places confidence. And I'm confident of this: Serving God serves you.

And I mean that in an eternal sense (not health, wealth, prosperity).

I could go on and on about the temporary nature of things here on earth. I could talk about moths, rust, thieves. But simply, wealth is a horrible boss.  If you are a slave to wealth, you'll always be a slave. Chasing paper. Building wealth. Losing wealth. Rebuilding it again. Investing and re-investing. Worrying about it. And when you die someone else (who didn't work at all) will get your money. 

I'd rather be God's intern, than wealth's CEO. Because I'm not a slave. But I am. But I'm not: 

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 
- John 15:15

And this boss is really concerned about my payment:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. 
- Hebrews 11:16

If God couldn't pay me, or if He couldn't deliver...He'd be ashamed! But God has no cause for shame, and He's proud to be called our Master, because He's got it. The city is already prepared. The reward is already prepared. And so in working to build God's kingdom, we one day get to hear these words: 

"Well done good and faithful servant..." and in my imagination God stretches out His arm to usher me through the pearly gates and whispers something along the lines of: 

Your kingdom awaits. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 29: I Ain't No Punk!

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

I'm not ashamed to say I had no idea that was a Gandhi quote. But I am ashamed. But I'm not. But I am.  I first heard that quote in an awesome kid's movie called The Buttercream Gang. It was hokie...but good. There's this one scene where a friend-turned-bully tries to steal someone's bike: 
The gang!

Bad guy: What if I take that bike away from you? What then?!
Nice kid: (handing the bike over) Here. Take it.
Bad guy: What do you think you're doing?!
Nice kid: Now you don't have to take it.

Then he just walked home bike-less.

Heartwarming when you're watching it on the screen. But...it also seems like a "punk" move and nobody wants to be a punk. 

I realized by a quick urban dictionary check, that the definition of "punk" that I grew up with
may not be universal. To some, punk is a style of music and dress. It has to do with colored hair, and spiky jewelry and aggressive rock music.

But to me, the phrase "I Ain't No Punk" is something else altogether. I found a great quote, so I'm going to have to give credit:

“I ain’t no punk,” is of course corner-talk for “I am foolish enough to mortgage my life on even the pettiest act of perceived disrespect.” - Ta-nehesi Coates, The Logic of I Ain't No Punk

It's tit-for-tat. There's no such thing as "let it go." It's the street version of "an eye for an eye."

Which leads us to today's scripture:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
- Matthew 5:38-42 

This has become one of my favorite scriptures. Why? Because people won't agree on it. When I was growing up, I thought "turn the other cheek" meant "let it go." Forgive this person, and move on. But it doesn't really mean that. It means: oh you got slapped? Get slapped again.


Wait a minute. If someone wants your shirt, give them your coat? Something about this sounds like a bit much.

In my opinion, this JC interpretation seems the most changed from the Old Testament scripture. In the Old Testament, it's not revenge that is being sought, but justice. You receive harm in proportion to how you have harmed others. Fair is fair. But in Matthew 5, Jesus says set aside your need for justice and give mercy. 

That's workable, except He's actually requesting more than mercy. And that's where people (myself included) start to bristle. Jesus knows what He's doing though. He's asking us to be like Him.

Christians love contrasting mercy and grace: 
  • Mercy - not getting the punishment you deserve
  • Grace - getting a benefit you didn't deserve
Hallelujah! Thank Jesus for grace! 

But we don't like to show grace, because then we're letting people "walk all over us." 

Ummm...right! Get walked on. Don't RESIST the evil person. I know those are some harsh and hard to hear words, but Jesus didn't resist when they dragged Him from judgment hall to judgment hall. He didn't resist when they beat Him. Or when they nailed Him to the cross. And in His final moments he yells out: 

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." - Luke 23:34

What a moment for intercessory prayer! 
Yet, when I'm wronged, all I can say is: I ain't no punk? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

28th Day of Lent: I Swear!

Remember when I was trapped in 1 John? Now, I seem to be trapped in the Sermon on the Mount. Which is a great sermon. I did a whole series on the Beatitudes which is really just Jesus warming up (the sermon is three chapters long). We're in a portion of the sermon where Jesus takes a law from the Old Testament ("you've heard it said you should not commit murder," "you've heard it said don't commit adultery") and then turn it on its head. He doesn't undo the law. He just goes a step deeper. Instead of not murdering...don't even think angry thoughts. Instead of not cheating on your spouse, don't even look at another person with lust in your heart. And now, we have this: 

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
Matthew 5:33-37 

When I read this scripture, it automatically transports me back nearly 24 years to the only vow I've ever made to the Lord. I was eight years old. And in a few weeks..I was turning nine. At the time, I had a particular sin problem: I was a thief. A true thief. I stole money from my parents and from my siblings. That was to buy things at the store we lived near. I also stole things from my siblings to destroy. That was for spite. When you're small and other people are big...you have to fight back in creative ways. Honestly, I don't really remember stealing a ton of things. I can only call to mind two specific instances:
  1. $20 out of my mom's purse. Or my sister India's purse - never caught (to my knowledge)
  2. A pack of Rolos from Krogers, our local grocery store - caught and forced to return and acknowledge to the cashier that I was a thief.
Those are two terrible things, and so if I was bold enough to do those, it stands to reason that I may have been a prolific thief at the age of eight. 

Which is why it was the perfect subject of my one and only vow to the Lord: 

"Lord, if You make it so that I can walk again by my birthday...I'll never steal again." 

Maybe I tacked an amen onto the end. I can't recall. You see, on May 23, 1991 I was in a terrible car accident. The kind of car accident that people generally don't survive. I was walking across a busy street, and was hit by a car. I was dragged by the car for some ways before the car stopped, paramedics were called and I was rushed to the hospital. There is A LOT to that story, which is not the subject of today's blog. So long story short: I couldn't walk. Doctors thought I would never walk again, but a kid doesn't think that way. Especially not a church kid. So, I made my vow. 

And I walked. By my birthday.

And it's been torture ever since. 

Have you ever read The Kite Runner? There's a part of that book that struck me while I was reading it (and I've never forgotten it) because it felt like profound truth to an avowed ex-thief: 

"There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft... When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness."

So really, unless I live perfectly...my vow is broken. Not that I want to make wrong moves or that I wish I could steal things, but I do wish I had never said it. The prayers of the saints (the people at my church) were enough for me to walk again! God's grace was enough for me to walk again! Me simply saying: "Lord, I'd like it if I could walk again" would have sufficed...but I complicated it with a cosmic tit-for-tat that God simply didn't need or request.

In this scripture, vows are being used to attest to truthfulness. It is implied that a question has been asked, and someone feels the need to make a vow to validate what they are saying. Followers of Christ should need no such validation. We should possess the sort of character that our simple "yes" or "no" is received as the truth no matter how preposterous it sounds. 

Person who knows me: Did you just move that remote control with your mind? 
Me: Yes. 

And just like that, the person who knows me believes! To swear by all of these other things is meaningless. Why? Because we're powerless in those regards. Swear to God? So what happens if you lie, have you (via the power of your lie) called down God's wrath? Or swearing on your mother's grave. Have you, via the power of your lie, canceled out her resurrection? Or plummeted her into hell? Or my favorite: "I swear on everything" like you, via the power of your lie, can suddenly rid the world of all its goods? 

Making vows of that nature assigns power to people who are, by spiritual nature, powerless beings. It was this powerlessness that predicated our need for Christ: 

 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
 - Romans 5:6

So, the simple yes/no...that's how it should work with people.

by the moon and the stars in the sky...I'll be there!
So what about vows with God? Since when does God ask you something and then say: "How do I know you're telling the truth?" which would be your cue to start vowing? I've never had that happen. It didn't happen when I was eight...and it hasn't happened since. So, there's no need to make a vow.

Don't get me wrong, I try to keep my vow by not stealing, and I try to remain cognizant of all of the stealing variations. But, I won't make another vow. Firstly because God didn't ask me to make a vow. Secondly, because I'm sort of a powerless person. If I keep that vow, it's by the power of the Holy Spirit which enables me to live a sinless life. At which point, God is keeping the vow for me. 

I've also contemplated that just making the vow was a sin...but even if it was...

Christ died for that. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lent, day 27: Put out the Fire!

How do you put out a fire?

It depends on the type of fire. My mind always goes to water. But water doesn't always work. Sometimes you have to smother it. Sometimes you can throw a substance on it (like salt or baking soda). Sometimes if you just wait long enough, it'll burn itself out (but I don't recommend that method as there a other possible consequences).  

But what starts a fire? 

It could be anything. Sometimes it's caused by negligence on our part. Sometimes, it seems like they just happen! 

Which is more important to know? How the fire starts or how to put it out? 

I don't have a "right" answer to that. I think...fires happen. So I think it's imperative that you know how to put it out.   

There is one area of life that is just a tinder box of potential spiritual fires. And to keep it real it has everything to do with sex and relationships. It's a tinder box for thought crimes and actual crimes. 

So today's reading is:  

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matthew 5:27-30 

Since I already discussed thought crimes yesterday, I won't go into how it's hard not to be an adulterer, but I read this quote that I thought was pretty legit: 

Not my eye...!
"The man who is condemned is the man who deliberately uses his eyes to awaken his lust, the man who looks in such a way that passion is awakened and desire deliberately stimulated." 

There is a way to use your body, in this case the eyes, that promotes immorality (by biblical standards...which are the ones we're talking about). Which leads us to the shocking statements Jesus makes about our body parts: 

Rip out your eye. Cut off your hand. 

Seems extreme. A few early church peeps did these things! Buuuuuuut, did JC mean this literally? No.  Why? Because that wouldn't solve the problem. 

A pervy guy with two eyes will still be pervy with one. Like we stated yesterday, this is a heart issue. But, if that's the case, what is Jesus getting at here? He's saying "put the fire out."

Fire is a serious business, and the eye can act as a match. It's a spark. So watch what you expose your eyes to. Don't let your eyes soak up the images (accelerant) that will inflame your mind. I didn't know this, but the "right hand" is supposedly euphemistic for "penis" (dynamite?) which makes a ton of sense in the context of this verse. Clearly, it's speaking to the two body parts that can lead to...umm...fires. 

I think the message here to men (and women) is to neutralize.

Neutralize - to render (something) ineffective or harmless by applying an opposite force or effect.

Put the fire out! So how do we neutralize the effects or eyes and body parts have on our moral purity? By applying an opposite force: prayer, fasting, abstaining from certain activities and visual cues, studying scripture, spending more time in community, etc., etc. I don't know! Whatever works for you. 

But, we have to neutralize.