Saturday, April 4, 2015

Last Day of Lent: What's Your Response?

So it's been 40 days. 40 blogs. I'm a little shocked that I was able to keep with this. If you'll recall on the first day of lent, I was very non-committal to this blogging thing:

"Part of my Lent plan is to go through a Bible Gateway reading plan: Daily Reading for Personal Growth, 40 Days with God. And maybe...sometimes (not committing to every day) write a blog about it."

But I wrote a blog every day. I am happy that I stuck with it. But...I know one thing is for sure: not everyone likes my blogs. I can't assert that everything in my blog is the truth (though I think it is while I'm writing it). But when you hear something; when someone tells you something, you generally have two choices about how you respond to it:
  • Accept it as the truth
  • Reject it as the truth
As a human being, there are a lot of truths that I have rejected (e.g. "He's just not that into you."). And there are a lot of lies that I have accepted (e.g. " You can't do it" "That's just not how life works" "You're not good enough," etc., etc.). It's hard to know what to accept and what to reject because TONS of information flows at us all the time. And sometimes new information contradicts old information (that we believed in) and how do we deal with that? The same way. All information is either (1) accepted or (2) rejected, and the gospel of peace is the same way. Today's scripture is really long (Acts 13:42 - 52) and so I'm going to sample a little bit:

 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath...The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us,

‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles,
That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’”
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed... 

I like the use of the word "began" in this passage. It is accentuated in the Bible, so it stood out to me. But the word "began" takes us back to the start. It's the birthplace of response.

This scriptures starts with Paul and Barnabas leaving the Jewish synagogue where they had just preached a rousing message. If you have time check out Acts 13:16-41; it's quick reading! In any case, the people hadn't processed what they heard yet, but they knew they wanted to hear it again. And so the next week everyone and their mother was at synagogue...including gentiles. Historically, Judaism has been for Jews. They are God's chosen people. It is to them that the promises of God were originally imparted, and so to see it opened up like this was a bit much. And so the Jews were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the gospel. Contradiction is a special type of rejection. It's a denial of a statement by asserting the opposite. And it's something they began to do. It wasn't happening all along.

And so Paul then basically told them they (in fact) had the right of first refusal. Just by virtue of birth. But now he was turning to the gentiles with this gospel message, and when they heard this they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord. Gentiles previously had NO opportunity to rejoice in or glorify the word of the true God. Why? Because it wasn't available to them.

Two totally different responses. You have a gathering of people all in the same place, and some are cheering and others are booing. All to the same message. It's like the State of the Union address! Depending on where you're sitting good news is good news or good news is lies. But there's a point at which you begin.

And no matter where you are in life. If you've rejected Christ...or even if you've accepted Christ, I think you should begin again. Why? Because there's something amazing about the start. At the start, there is rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord. IF you start off on the foot that leads to that. Sometimes, my rejoicing gets quiet. And my glorifying gets quiet. Why? Because God's grace has been available to me for too long. Sometimes at the middle, we think we're at the end. And we lose our joy. Or sometimes right at the start we walk away and miss out on joy. But you can always go back to the start because:

And He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”- Revelation 21:5

You can be restored to the start line, because God's mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) regardless of your response.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lent Day 39: Against My Religion

One of the biggest issues in the news this past week has been the Indiana Religious Freedom Law. Oh how people were super pissed off! Now, the point is sorta moot. The Indiana governor signed a "fix" for the law yesterday  prohibiting businesses from using the religious freedom law as a defense in court for refusing "to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing" to any customers based on "race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service." 

Problem solved. There's almost nothing to blog about, but I'll find a way...

I'm not a very political person, so I'm sure there is more going on to this than meets the eye. I assumed that the purpose of the law was to protect people who didn't want to do something that was "against their religion." That is a way too simple view, so I read a few articles on the subject so as not to be misinformed. The best one (imo), that just seemed to talk about "the facts," was this NPR piece

I got the idea for this blog this morning after reading this CNN article about a Christian-owned pizzeria that came under fire after saying they would refuse to cater a gay wedding. Basically, they would refuse because that would be against their religion.

--PAUSE--I don't know if they already have refused, or if they're just thinking prospectively...but I initially found it hard to believe that any one (much less a gay couple) would have pizza at their wedding! I just couldn't envision it. But after perusing some online pictures of pizza-catered weddings I see that it can be sort of nice!--UNPAUSE--

So this morning, when I read today's verses, it got me thinking about the whole Indiana Religious Freedom Law situation:

 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 
- James 4:6-12

You may be thinking: what do those verses have to do with anything?

And you're right, I would never have gone down this path reading those verses alone; however, that scripture starts with the word "but," and so I had to go back a few verses to this gem:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 
- James 4:4

I read that, and I thought: OH. It's against my religion to be your friend. If I cater your wedding (I'm not a caterer), if I make you a floral arrangement (I'm not a florist)...then I'm in violation of God.  Perhaps a more fitting analogy for me is if I prepare your first jointly-filed tax return? THEN, I'm an enemy of God. And I simply can't risk that.

...I thought about it for a couple of minutes. Thinking: is that what this means? Is that where we're getting this from?

I've never been big on the refusal of goods and services, I'm more of the mind that you shouldn't be
able to force clergy to officiate your wedding. Or you can't force churches to serve as your venue. With emphasis on the word "force." If clergy/churches want to do that on their own accord...that's their right. We almost unilaterally have a right to assent (for any reason). But the right to refuse is highly governed. Too highly governed? Not governed enough? Governed in a way that infringes on religious freedom? That's where I have to throw up my hands. Like I said, I'm not political, but I try to be biblical.

And I've decided:

James 4:4 doesn't mean I can't be your friend.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 
- James 4:1-4

God didn't consent to share you
See that weird flow? How there's no mention of unbelievers? James is talking to people in the church about having a strong emotional attachment to the world system and the strife it is causing. It's about professing Christians who still have a deep and intimate longing for the things of the world. It goes back to "you can't serve two masters." You either want God or everything the world has to offer. But, we're so naturally greedy we try to have both. We want polyamory between us, God, and the world system.  And so, James calls you a "cheater" (adulteress). 

BUT He gives a greater grace (back to the original scripture reading starting at James 4:6). The grace God gives is greater than what? Our pull into the world system. And the grace God gives is in response to what? Us wanting bad things. God's grace covers that! Then James, in my opinion, goes partial Beatitudes on them. You have to mourn and repent of your sinful ways. You have to humble yourself meekly and acknowledge your dependence on God, and turn away from your dependence on the evil world system that is contrary to God. Do those things, and your desires will change. And grace will exalt you.

Honestly though, I haven't heard anyone quoting James 4:4 in defense of snubbing people who don't share our religious convictions. In fact, I haven't heard any scriptures whatsoever. But I would like to! If I'm in error, I'd like to know. But for now, I'll just follow my example:

Who ate meals with the scorned and disenfranchised.
Who pardoned a "caught-in-the-act" prostitute who was thrown at his feet.
Who didn't take a poll of what type of sinners where in the crowd of 5,000 before he broke the fish and bread.

But I'm yet open to correction...

Because I don't want to do anything that's against my religion.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

38th day of Lent: Two Kinds of People

There are two types of people in this world. TWO only. Just kidding. There are really so many. I took this little buzzfeed test on this subject and was thoroughly amused. In this extremely scientific test, they show you 20 sets of two pictures and you pick which one is you. From needing numerous alarms to wake up in the morning, to how you roll the TP...there are many situations in which you fall into one of two categories. 
I thought they should have included the pronunciation of the word "obvious." There are ONLY two types of people in this world. People who say "obvious" wrong and people who say it right!
  1. Ah-b-vee-us (but said fast. The "b" is there. It's tiny, but it's there!)
  2. Aww-vee-us (no "b", and the first syllable is accented and exaggerated in a strange and INCORRECT way) 
It's not really a pet peeve of mine, I don't care how people say the word obvious, but it's just something I've noted over the course of my life. Note: I have said the word "obvious" so many times while writing this blog that it now sounds like gibberish. So moving on, today's reading is also about two types of people. It is about two types of Christians: 

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. 
 - James 3:13-18 

This scripture really can't be read starting from verse 13, because then you miss a critical point: who this letter is addressing. And while this information is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)'s definitely meant for a particular crowd. This crowd is not likely my blog audience. But one day my blog audience could become the target audience of this admonition:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
- James 3:1 
So this message is to teachers. And while every Christian is charged with sharing their faith and teaching others The Way, this is to people who want to teach officially. Professionally. These are not just fly-by-night bloggers. 

And of the people who teach, there are two kinds: 
  • Those who are wise and understanding - and teach out of that
  • Those who are full of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition - and teach out of that 
Or maybe it could worded like this: There are two kinds of people,
  • People with God's wisdom
  • People with their own wisdom
If you put it like that, it's clear that there is a wisdom that is from above, and it is pure. And there is another wisdom, from below, and it is tainted.

In a previous blog, I talked about what it meant for something to be pure. It means it is comprised of ONE substance, and is not mixed with anything else. So, I think it's very easy for our wisdom and understanding to become tainted, because to us everything is "relative" or "the way I see it" or "but if you look at it this way." And suddenly, we sound very wise, but if we've mixed the knowledge of God with our own brand of wisdom (no matter how witty/clever you are), there is a taint.

I've heard a lot of preachers in my life, and I've witnessed evil and disorder in the church. James says this "extra wisdom" born out of jealousy and selfish ambition is the cause. It causes an arrogance that makes someone lie against the truth, but I bet to them that truth is the lie. They've attained wisdom! It's just...tainted. I bet it's hard to realize your wisdom is tainted, except as Jesus said (regarding preachers):

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits... A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
 - Matthew 7:15-18

What are these fruits? 

I don't know...but I think we know good fruit from bad fruit. The same way you know gentleness and mercy from callousness and cruelty. Where you have gentleness and mercy (one of which is a fruit of the spirit, and one which is a beatitude)...I think you know you're dealing with.

So if your church is out of order...better assess that wisdom.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lent 37: 100° PROOF

People make a lot of claims.

If you go on facebook, and just scroll around, you'll find lots of claims. But what's true? How does one prove their claims? 

"I'm a good man." This is my all-time favorite Facebook and online dating claim. You can't just write that somewhere! How do you go about proving this without typing some more sentences about your credit score, your nine-to-five, and a claim that you "at least try to listen?" I didn't read that phrase and become instantly convinced. I need PROOF!

We've all had people in our lives who say one thing and do another. Which is why in the back of every human being's mind there is a concept that governs relationships: 

Actions speak louder than words. 

Even when we have convinced ourselves that "I love you," "I miss you," and "I'm sorry" out of the mouth of a known liar are words worthy of acceptance...somewhere deep down you're thinking: 
  • Then why did you do XYZ?
  • Then why didn't you at least text me? 
  • Then why do you keep doing this?   
Are actions really the proof?
This brings me to tonight's scripture, which is for sure a doozie, and I'm not pretending to have all (or any) answers, just some thoughts: 

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
- James 2:14-20 

Despite being one of the most difficult passages in the Bible for modern day evangelical Christians, this is awesome just because it sounds so angry and sarcastic. 

I almost didn't write the first part of this blog because the scripture came with its own background analogy about how we treat the less fortunate. Here's the quick breakdown:
  • Go in peace - How will I go in peace if I'm yet naked and hungry? 
  • Be warmed - With the clothes you gave me? 
  • Be filled - Ummm...did you give me a burrito and I missed it?
Can the person saying "go in peace, be warmed and be filled" sincerely mean that? Do they sincerely care about the peace, warmth, and full stomach of this individual? They said they did. But...where's the PROOF.

James is mad about it: "what use is that?" I imagine a tone full of sarcasm. 

My favorite part is "You believe that God is one..." whoopty doo! I think if James were alive today, he might say "whoopty doo." Then he goes as far to say that having that bit of faith is on par with demons. Burn!  James wants action. If you're saved. And you love people. DO something!
Bible Edition

A lot of people feel like they need to reconcile what James is saying to what Paul is saying (Romans 3:26-28). I saw an article that was titled: Paul vs. James. Like they are in some Bible version of celebrity deathmatch! Believe me, they are not. They are both  kicking it in the presence of God, waiting for the end times. But even if we were measuring Paul and James against each other...neither of them is the yardstick.

The yardstick is Christ.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
- Matthew 25:34-36
God is a god of productivity and power. Those who are being transformed into His image should be no different. Show me your faith without works? Hard to do. But at the same time, if a person is trusting in their works...their faith is misplaced. There are some other folks in Matthew 25 who also had works...but they heard different words:

Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
- Matthew 7:22-23
What is happening?!

You know what is key in these verses? I think it matters WHO is doing the commending: 
"Then the King will say" vs. "Many will say to Me." 
In the first group, they are being commended by God for works they didn't know they had done on His behalf! They had been acting in faith and living in love. And love does things. These people had a faith, that produced love, that produced works. And these are the works that James is talking about (I think). The faith-produced, love-produced works of someone with a regenerated heart and mind. 

In the second group, they are commending themselves to God, based on works: "I did XYZ...let me in." God doesn't owe you. There are no people going to heaven because of their personal accomplishments. We get in on Jesus' accomplishment:  

The Cross. 

Believe on it.
That belief produces. That belief transforms. But it's not the transformation itself that saved you. It's the faith that caused the transformation. The transformation is merely the sign. It's the proof.
But if there's no sign...what does that signify?