Patience, mercy, and grace

I recently had a conversation with someone about patience, they were talking about how it was a challenge for them. They said, “God didn’t give me much patience.” In my mind, I immediately disagreed with them and thought about Galatians 5:22: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

As I was driving to the office this morning, and that conversation came into my mind, and creeping judgmentalism along with it-

“How can someone say that God didn’t give them patience? Am I allowed to say, ‘God didn’t give me self-control’, so I can do what I want?”

Just then (literally just then) as my judgmentalism roared to a crescendo, the traffic ahead of me slowed, alternating between 10-15 miles an hour. Two cars ahead of me was the problem: a vehicle driving slowly with their hazards flashing. Immediately, my mind switched gears and through gritted teeth and with anger, frustration and impatience rising… “C’mon…what in the world is going on here? This is ridiculous.”

And there it was.

I guess God obviously didn’t “gift” me patience either.

Isn’t it interesting that the very thing that I was sitting in judgment over others was the thing God was setting before me?

Jesus tells us that a tree is known by the fruit it produces. Earlier in Galatians 5, Paul writes, “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear (the fruit is evident): sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”

As Christians, the Holy Spirit lives within us, and each day, each moment we live, we have a choice- will I live in glad submission to who God is making me to be, or not? When I’m in moments that provide opportunity for my fruit to show and grow, will I?

Paul mostly closes Galatians 5 with this: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”

This is how the Spirit produces fruit in us- by leading us into opportunities to reveal what we are made of, to show “what’s inside.” I’m betting the best way for this to happen is for us to be constantly placed in situations that try and challenge us, that call us to live out who God is making us to be.

Be His today.

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Good figs, bad figs

After years and years of disobedience to God, the LORD allowed Babylon to enter Judah and carry most of the people off into exile (This is where we find the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego).

There was a prophet named Jeremiah that God had been speaking to all of the people through. In chapter 24 of the book by his name, the Lord places two baskets of figs in front of Jeremiah; one basket is filled with good figs, and the other is filled with bad ones, too rotten to eat.

Conventional 21st-century American Christianity would tell us that the bad figs represented the people carried off- they were the wicked ones who got what they deserved. Their troubles were the proof of their disobedience, their distance from God; “bad things happen to bad people.” At it’s best, the bad things that happen to me are the result of the bad things I’ve done and at the opposite of the spectrum, bad things happening are the proof of an evil, wicked, spiteful God who neither hears nor cares for his people; “He’s abandoned us!” Is our cry.

Conventional 21st-century American Christianity would have us believe the those left behind remained there because they were good and faithful, they did the right things and being allowed to remain in their homeland was the just reward for a life well-lived- God was blessing them with lives of peace, harmony and goodness.

Guess again.

Then the LORD gave me this message: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: The good figs represent the exiles I sent from Judah in the land of the Babylonians. I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.

“But the bad figs,” the LORD says, “represent King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, all the people left in Jerusalem, and those who love in Egypt. I will treat them like bad figs, too rotten to eat. I will make them an object of horror and a symbol of evil to every nation on earth. They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I scatter them. And I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.”

I have friends and folks in our congregation who are in the midst of hardship that they (and I) cannot understand. Situations and realities that seem impossible to bear

Maybe they are wicked sinners whose sins are catching up to them. Maybe they are reaping what they’ve sown, maybe God is angry and it’s time to pay the piper.

It’s possible because in God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence, no one gets away with anything (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

And maybe, just maybe, God’s sent them off to exile for the glory of His Name and their own protection. He’s watching over and caring for them, he’s building them up and planting them, giving them hearts that recognize him as LORD, writing his words on their hearts and in their minds, to make them his people as they are prepared to return to him wholeheartedly.

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Francis Schaeffer- A favorite dead Christian

I was first introduced to Francis Schaeffer at Toccoa Falls College in January of 1989 during Winterim. The class was Western Thought and Culture, and each day, we were exposed to the 1961 video series, How Should We Then Live? (Currently available on Amazon Prime). Each morning we’d gather in the Chapel for a viewing, followed by classroom discussion and conversation. Honestly, I was immature and thought the whole thing was a joke- I wish I had paid more attention!

Fast forward to about 5 or 6 years ago and I stumbled across a copy of The God Who is There. I absolutely loved it, only to pass it off to a student. I never received it back.

A few months ago, I purchased Trilogy: The God Who is There, Escape from Reason, and He is There and He is not Silent.

I’ve appropriately paced myself through this book, and frequently come across things relevant immediately to the text I’m reading and studying through for Sunday.

At WestWay, the church I serve, we’ve looked at three biblical books this year- James, Ecclesiastes, and we’re a bit more than half-way through Hebrews. I believe Schaeffer has made an appearance in all three.

I don’t know how the body at WestWay feels about my frequent usage of quotations from Schaeffer (Just last week I told Mike, one of the other pastors at WW, that Schaeffer and Narnia were my “Lord of the Rings”).

My reading today is no exception. Just this past Sunday, we read and discussed Hebrews 8 and talked about the extra-judicial nature of Jesus’ work- he did not just fulfill the requirents of the law; he exceeded them, and set that standard for us: “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

Today, as I prep for Sunday’s message on Hebrews 9 (Jesus is…the Superior Sanctuary), we again see the extra-judicial/beyond the law nature of Christ. He enters the throne room of God with his own blood, for our sins, and secures the eternal redemption- not just to make is ceremonially clean, but to cleanse our very consciences.

This all has value and import for us, of course. As Christians, our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if we wish to see heaven- we must go above and beyond what the law calls us to and the only way we practically do this is by accepting the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and allowing God to write his laws on our hearts and minds. We too, must be extra-judicial.

Here’s some Schaeffer (which may or may not make it in to Sunday)

The fault of orthodoxy is that though it has a legal circle, it tends to acts as though merely to be within the legal circle is enough…But what a tragedy to think that because we are in the proper legal circle, everything is finished and done–as though marriage, the Church and other human relationships are static and that only the legal circle is important. Even in justification, many Christians who are perfectly orthodox in doctrine look back upon their justification as though it were the end of it all, at lest until death comes…The legal circle of justification does not end statically; it opens to me a living person-to-person communication with the God who exists…There must be an observable indication of this in the midst of the daily life in this present abnormal world, or we have denied the central Christian proposition…Far too often young people become Christians and then search among the Church’s ranks for real people, and have a hard task finding them. All too often evangelicals are paper people (only concerned with the legal)…If we who have become God’s children do not show Him to be personal in our lives, then in practice we are denying his existence. People should see a beauty among Christians in their practice of the centrality of human relationships–in the whole spectrum of life and in the whole culture.

Jesus was once asked, “Which command is the greatest?”

His response was completely extra-judicial. “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

174 pages down, 184 to go.

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I am Harvey Weinstein

Note: This post is a follow up to last year’s “I am Donald Trump. And So are you” post.

Harvey Weinstein is an film producer and former studio executive- until recently when he was outed as a serial sexual assaulter and harasser of multiple women.

It’s easy to cast judgment, he’s done terrible things and deserves to be held accountable for the wrong he’s done.

And I’m just wondering…

  • What things lie in my past (or even my present) that, if exposed, would bring me to ruin? Would destroy my life? My marriage? My ministry? My witness of Christ?

A few verses come to mind:

  • I Timothy 5:24- “Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later.”
  • Ecclesiastes 12:14- “God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret things, whether good or bad.”

This is truthfully and literally the best thing that could ever have happened to Harvey Weinstein, if…

  • he acknowledges his behavior as sin,
  • he seeks forgiveness from those he has damaged,
  • he turns to Christ, repents of his sin and is born again into new life.

To be clear: these things will make none of his actions “ok”. They will not repair the damage done. They won’t justify him. But, they will give him hope; what Christians call “grace” and if this offends you, know that the same forgiveness available to Harvey Weinstein is available to you.

And to be clear, you, too, are a sinner. Without Jesus, you are lost, fallen. Dead.

But that doesn’t have to be how this ends.

There’s still time.

Maybe your secret sin has yet to be revealed. At some point, it’s coming out.

I urge you, right now, to take a moment to pray and ask God who you might speak to about what’s going on in your life.

Scripture tells us that as humans, we are separated from God due to our sin- whether it’s sexual assault, murder, theft, gossip, drunkenness, idolatry, and the list goes on.

This kind of exposure is just what we all need, not just Harvey Weinstein, because it’s an opportunity to repent. Like I’ve written in that prior post, “While there may be earthly consequences of our sin, eternal consequences are worse.”

In all practical reality, I am Harvey Weinstein.

And, so are you.

 

 

 

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It is Finished.

Over the past month, I’ve been slowly reading through the book Psalms in the Old Testament. A few thoughts and observations on the first 13:
1- I’m struck by how many of the Psalms early on are lament: “Where are you, God?” “There are many against me!” “Answer me when I call you!” “Hear me!” “Don’t rebuke me!”
2- Others ask God for protection from enemies.
3- Still others are praise.
In summary- “Where are you God? Don’t you see the injustice of what’s happening? Of course you do…you’re God. And, you’re not watching idly by, you are waiting, gearing up for judgment while leaving room for repentance of everyone involved. But make no mistake…judgment is coming.
It’s weird being in the space of waiting for God’s judgment on the unjust. Waiting for payback. For retribution or vengeance.
I’m learning that God’s judgment rarely takes the form that we’d like for it to, and equally rarely, it does not happen on our timeline.
Strangely, when the victory does happen, when justice is meted out and lying, deceitful and manipulative people are finally outed for who they are and always have been…the feeling is not joy, really. There’s no gloating. No “I told you so”.
It feels more like closure.
Finality.
Peace.
Rest.
On the cross, just before He died, Jesus said, “It is finished”.
And now, for me…it is finished.

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The Narrowest of Paths- Being With “Those People”

We know who “those people” are.

They are the ones who are different than us. They look different and they speak different. They’ve been married a time or two (maybe more) than we have. Their language is coarser than ours. They like to smoke, drink, and chew, and worse, they go with those who do. Maybe they’ve made some really poor financial decisions or their life seems like one emergency after another. They may not care that much about God or Jesus, and the concepts of church and religion are offensive to them.

Or maybe, they have everything one could ever want or need. Their lives are perfect and they are living the dream. Never divorced, 3 perfect kids and the highest moral character. They may even attend your church because that’s what good people do.

Yesterday in our staff meeting, we read from Philippians 3:12-21. As we reflected, we talked about how those who do not know Christ are headed for eternal separation from God (we call that “Hell”- but that’s another post), how we might minister to them and share the good news of Jesus Christ, then ultimately, we ended up with a conversation about “being in the world but not of it.”

This morning, I read from Matthew 9- specifically when Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Jesus and the disciples would be invited over to Matthew’s home as dinner guests. Who else was there?

“many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners”

Now, I wasn’t there, but I know what happens when a bunch of disreputable sinners get together. Why? Because I used to be one.

Guess who else was there…the Pharisees. And their response?

“why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

Verses 12 and 13 from Matthew 9 are amazing. In verse 12, Jesus seems to placate the Pharisees, “healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do”. Surely the Pharisees loved this statement, in their minds they likely heard, “all of THOSE PEOPLE are sick and diseased…what’s wrong with them?”

Then, Jesus says this, “Check your scripture, especially this: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ I am not here for those who think they are righteous, but for those who know they are sinners“.

The narrow path calls believers to be in relationship with people. It’s actually ok to be friends with people who are not believers (I wrote more about this in a previous post).

The narrow path calls believers to be aware of their own sinfulness.

The narrow path calls believers to show mercy.

The narrow path calls believers to set aside our self-righteousness and be with those who are in need of the Doctor.

We begin this narrowest of paths by simply being with people.

Will you walk with me?

 

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The Narrowest of Paths- Church and Politics

Just going to set this out there.

I lean for the separation of church and state.

While our nation was indeed founded upon the ideals of Judeo-Christianity, many of the men whom we call “Founding Fathers” were also greatly impacted by the Enlightenment- and a huge tenet of the Enlightenment was Deism. At it’s base, Deism is the belief in God as a divine watchmaker, He’s built the watch, wound it up, then let it run. No miracles. No intervention. No personal relationship.

Add to this one more thing- Western Philosophical Thought- going back to the ancient Greek philosophers and their ideals of heart/mind separation, from which we get Stoicism, Epicureanism, the separation between the sacred and the secular, and eventually Gnosticism.

Today is the National Day of Prayer– a time for people to come together and pray for our nation and it’s leaders. On this day, President Trump has created and signed an executive order about religious liberties.

And, because we are a rage culture, well, rage ensues from all sides- one side is angry and disappointed, with the other seemingly mocking their Christian brothers and sisters.

As I prepared yesterday for an upcoming message, I read Acts 3-4. Peter and John are out in the Temple, healing people and talking about Jesus. They’re arrested by the priests and brought before the council- the same ones who about 60 days before had killed Jesus. Since the guy that was healed was standing there, there was literally nothing the council could do except “command them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

The response from Peter and John is simple and should guide each and every person who claims the cross- “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

While legal religious liberties may indeed be governed, proclaimed, enforced, or legislated, there is a higher authority. In fact, it is this higher authority (the Creator alluded to in our founding documents) that allows (appoints, even!) this lower authority. It is to this higher kingdom that we are commanded to obey and live in.

While I’m thrilled beyond measure to live in a nation founded upon high ideals, even “Christian” ones, there’s a Higher Kingdom in which I, and everyone else on earth, truly reside and it is the law of this Kingdom to which we are bound.

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