The Elevator

Sometimes we have the weirdest experiences in elevators.   They can be like movie screens, displaying the hardships of a person’s life before a varied audience, or they can be like a silent film, leaving the viewers to “fill in the blanks.”   Elevators in hospitals are the most callous.   They don’t care if you are rich, poor, healthy, hurting, overly emotional or totally indifferent, they just don’t care!

The other day I was at a hospital to visit a friend that was struggling with life.   On the way up to their floor I was riding with a lady that seemed overwhelmed and quite anxious.   If it were even possible, I think she would have jumped out of the elevator even before the door finally opened.   “What’s the matter” I asked?   She looked at me like I had an alien sitting on my shoulder sticking his tongue out at her.   “Nothing that a few million bucks wouldn’t fix!”   “Really, let me see what I have.   It can’t be that bad!”   At this point she went on to tell me that her husband was getting ready to be released but the hospital bills were piling up faster than she could add them up.  

Over the journey of just a few floors I saw what should have been a grateful heart over the healing of her husband turn to stone over the worry of money.   I told her; “your husband gets to go home!”   Too many times I witness the husband or wife, or child or infant that will never leave that hospital floor.   Too many times I am reminder of the brevity of life and the fragile balance between fear and gratitude.   But life goes on.

When I reached my destination the anxieties, I witnessed on the elevator were simply washed away by the scene I walked into.   There was death and hopelessness circling the room, and there seemed no clear way out.   All hope for this room was encapsulated in a prayer to Jesus that ensued.   This prayer was a living testimony to Christ presented in a way that was without selfishness or fear, it was simply a cry for a holy moment, a moment when Christ would fill the room with His presence.   It was beautiful and hope was found abundant.

On the way down I met a father who had just become a dad for the first time.   He was filled with excitement, joy and gratitude, even though he was also exhausted.   He spoke words of affirmation and blessing and was openly praising God for the blessing of new life.   Yes, elevators can be a strange thing.

I’M A CHRISTIAN, BUT DON’T ASK ME TO …

Yes, I love all of the promises that scripture tells us are in the heart of God for us.   God has wonderful plans for each one of us, and in scripture we read that we can trust in Him regardless of how unusual or out of the box those promises are.   God has offered us His best, forgiveness, eternal life, perfect purpose and relationship with our Creator.   Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?

It sometimes seems strange to me, that the Creator God, who really needs nothing, would sacrifice all that He did to save me!   Why?   What the heck did I do to deserve this?   If anything, I’ve done things that would make me less worthy of God’s rich blessings!   But God is a strange and mysterious God.  

When I read the Bible, God’s love letter to humanity, I read about all of the wondrous things God has planned for me.   A life without pain, without suffering and without tears.   Eternal life encapsulated in perfect purpose and fulfillment.   Joy unspeakable and contentment with all things.   God offers to me an eternal life that is beyond human comprehension and explanation, and is a life that He always intended me to have.  

This should motivate me to extreme enthusiasm and excitement.   I should be climbing the walls with this realization, chomping at the bit to tells others what good things await me in the future, all provided by God who paid a price extreme just to get me back home.    Wow, just let that sink in a while.

All of this is what God has done for me, what God has provided for me, what God offers to all that will trust in Him explicitly.   But I’m called not to just receive these unearned gifts from God, but to respond to them in ways that honor Him.   I am supposed to cross the street of priority, setting my agenda aside, to help someone who is less fortunate that me.   I am called to be attentive to the strife of others around me, and to freely and joyfully respond to their needs because of what God has done for me.   I am called to share my abundance with others, not by writing a check and disappearing into the shadows again, but to actively engage others witnessing to them my joy, faith and trust in who God is.  I am called to relinquish my sense of control and ownership of God’s resources for the sake of allowing others to expand their horizons of faith.   I am called to be humble, considering others above myself, so that the body of Christ may be continually built up and supported.   I am called to remove gossip, haughtiness’ and pride from my heart in order to help others see the glory of God.   Like John the Baptist, I am called to become less so that Christ can become more in the lives and hearts around me.

So, when I find myself willing to do certain things for God, but not all things, especially the ones I hold on to that make me feel good, I have to reconsider my Christian walk.   Am I on the right path?   Am I hearing God’s Word and applying it to my behaviors?   Or am I lying to myself?

When God Created …

When God created human beings, He created imperfect life in a perfect setting and existence.   He created flawed human beings that started experiencing trouble from the very get-go.   Let me explain.

First, God created Adam from the dust of the earth.   A miraculous feat!   He created Adam during the time He was creating the earth and sky.   However, there were not any trees or grasses in the land until after Adam had been created if I read the Garden account correctly.   I wonder if Adam had any input into the kind of garden that God was going to plant?   Colors, design or texture.   Regardless, God planted a garden that grew and was beautiful and He placed Adam in the midst of it for a purpose.   Adam had certain responsibilities and a reason for his life.   He was to “work the ground and keep it in order,” as we read in the Message version of Genesis 2.  

So, God has Adam continue His work in the garden while plants were growing, being created and being designed.   God also established something for the first time in Adams life: things you cannot do.   Do this and that, but don’t do that one thing!

Genesis 2:16-17 God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”

I wonder if Adam knew what God was talking about?   What experiences had he had that would give him an understanding regarding the concept of being “dead?”   Had Adam ever seen anything dead before?   How did Adam react to this, it certainly must have been a bit out of character in their relationship?   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying God didn’t do everything perfectly, I’m just wondering what kind of learning process Adam must have gone through prior.   Whatever the process it appears that Adam was not completely content in his heart.   Something was missing.   He had purpose and relationship with God, but something was still missing, or was he looking in the wrong places?

Immediately after placing Adam in the Garden of Eden to care for it, God recognized the need in Adams heart for a companion, a helper, a mate, another human being with different characteristics.   Adam needed another person for relationship.   So, Adam was put to sleep and God formed a woman as his helper.   What a beautiful picture this represents.   Evidently God was quite familiar with Adams need for companionship and purpose, therefore the reason for working in the Garden and the introduction of a helpmate.   God knew, that all of humankind, beginning with Adam, was in dire need of purpose and meaning through relationships, and that those relationships needed to be sought out carefully.

Where do I find them?   First and supremely, we need a relationship with our creator to know and understand our purpose and worth.   Nowhere else do we find that other than through our relationship with God.   Yes, we might look in a lot of other places or even in other people, but nothing can complete the human existence as an intimate relationship with the Creator, the One from whom we receive our value and worth.   Secondly, we need relationships with others around us.   It’s the way we are wired.   The key here is to choose wisely.   Chose God, and chose godly people for close intimate personal relationships.

The emptiness that Adam was experiencing in the Garden of Eden left him with that choice.   He could search to fill the emptiness through his relationship with God or he could look elsewhere.   But as we see, his choices were a bit limited.   He had God, Eve and lots of animals!   Why in the world were they drawn to listening to a serpent, a snake?   In a moment of weakness and deception Adam and Eve made a series of bad choices.  They listened to the serpent.   Not a godly choice but a flawed one!

As relational human beings it appears, we are all still on the same journey towards contentment and purpose.   We are searching.   Searching everywhere and inside the strangest places.   There is an emptiness found in the human heart that causes us to look outside of ourselves at times for purpose and value.   The problem we run into is that the solution is not found in the world or other people, its only found in a loving relationship with our Creator.   He is that answer!   It is God that has established our worth, our value, which He has placed on a scale where we are found valuable enough to die for.   Just sayin …

Salvation has left the building …

I can’t help sometimes but wonder if we as a church are on the right path.   Or more importantly, if we as Christians are pursuing our faith in the right way.   I think the Christian journey of faith has become somewhat convoluted and dysfunctional and has been corrupted like a battery found in a flashlight after many years.   It feels like something is broken.   It feels empty of some viable ingredient.   It doesn’t taste right!

The other day I was in a conversation with a friend about his church.   It was a church that I’m totally unfamiliar with, yet I was interested in what they were all about.   For the next thirty minutes I heard about all of the regular events the church puts on, the bible studies and book reviews, and the beautiful choir they have, with new robes!   I was invited to come and listen one Sunday!

This got me thinking, in fact I spent the entire next day praying, reading and considering what the Christian church overall has become.    More importantly, what have I become as a follower of Jesus?   That day, I searched web site after church web site looking for identity markers that would explain just who they were as a church and how they were getting there.   One after another I read about the many traditional events they participated in, as well as the regular studies and small groups they have.   In a way, it seems like our journey of faith has become extremely “mechanical” in our approach to Jesus.

I started to consider the Gospels where much of the character of Jesus is displayed.   Did He seem to care about the “events” the religious community sponsored?   No, not really.   What were the priorities that He favored, in fact insisted upon?   It seemed like Jesus was always talking about “knowing God” and not just doing stuff!   He focused on the “relational” side of who we are before God.   He held high the relationship that He had with God the Father, and was constantly inviting others to instill that priority in their lives.   What was He saying?

When I think of “relational” stuff, I first think about marriage.   Is marriage more than just going to work, coming home to a family and then going to sleep?   Is marriage a routine that you get into while doing “married” things?    If married couples eat together, live together, save money together and have kids together, is that it?   The Gospels show that Jesus was much more concerned about the intimacy of relationships, not sex, but actually knowing the heart of the other person.   Afterall, I can live with someone and play house with them and still not know them, right?

In the Christian church today, we seem over focused on the things we do for God instead of knowing God Himself.   I know, I know, that’s a broad and controversial statement, but its true.   So many churchgoers today have bought off on the lie that “service” is the way to salvation.   They feel that if they are “serving” or “doing” Christian things it means that they have a saving relationship with their Creator.   If I serve at the food kitchen and go to church, what else is there?   I’m good, right?

Christian service is not the way to a saving relationship with Jesus.   No, its not.   It’s a lie that the culture has produced.   Let’s face it, saving is what we need, yet we long for value in our lives too, meaning and a purpose.  

Everyone needs to be valued, it’s the way we were wired.   In the culture we place value on various things.   The more that something is valued, the more it shows up in our agendas.   If I find my value as a hockey player, I find myself playing it on a league every week and spending endless hours in practice.   I receive value from it so I indulge myself in the activity.

But in a relationship with Jesus the opposite is true.   If I spend all of my energy “doing” stuff for Jesus, and not spending time with Him, the value I place on my relationship with Jesus is false.   Jesus doesn’t need me to do anything.   After-all, He created the heavens and the earth!   What He is looking for is people that will chose to know Him and through that relationship find their value, worth and purpose.  

So how many people in the church today understand that to have a saving relationship with Jesus is much more than doing stuff to earn points or participating in a churchy tradition?   Jesus said something that should stop us in our tracks.

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We always seem to focus on the “doing” part, keeping the commandments.   But Jesus first identified the relational part, “If you love me …”  

Loving Jesus involves spending time with Him, listening to His voice, feeling the Spirit speaking to our hearts.   Too many Christians feel that the busyness of the church equates to a saving relationship.   It does not.   It simply makes us “feel” valued or accomplished.   Jesus also said something else quite challenging.

Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

In this decision to “come after me,” it involves a deep intimate understanding of who Jesus is and a willingness to be with Him, everything else follows …

Rejoicing …

Jesus said some strange stuff!   In fact, I’m still trying to figure out some of the statements and stories that He told, and how they apply to my daily life.   Why does it have to be so confusing, so mysterious?   What was He thinking?

One of the most difficult parables Jesus told is the one from Matthew 18.   In this parable Jesus contrast an earthly version of personal worth to a heavenly version.   Isn’t a bunch of faithful people more valuable than one rebellious loner?   Don’t we need to protect the safety and unity of the majority over the one that might never “get it?”   How far do we stretch ourselves for a lost individual?

Matthew 18:12   What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?  13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  14 In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Recently I started a new ministry at my church: “Bibles & Beer.”   Yup, Bibles & Beer!    This group meets on Monday evenings at a local bar for food, refreshments, conversation and God.   So far, this effort has been very successful and we have seen many new faces at our tables.   At this gathering we join each other in Christian conversations while eating and yes, if chosen, drinking a beer.   The idea is simple, in fact it comes from Matthew 18:12-14.   Leave the safe harbor of the church in search for that one person still trying to make heads or tails out of what life is all about.   Maybe, just maybe, we might even get a new person into the fellowship of Christians so that we can build each other up and fulfill the command of Jesus to reach others.   It really is not difficult!

This new ministry has become challenging in several ways.   First, can I really take my Christianity into such a public place as a bar?   I think we’re supposed to if I read Scripture correctly.   Secondly, am I willing to follow Jesus into uncharted territory?   Am I personally willing to put my own ideals and prejudices aside for the simple sake of reaching someone new in Christian conversation?   Am I willing to build a relationship with a sinner?   (That’s a loaded question!)   Jesus did.

According to Jesus, God the Father rejoices more over one sinful person being turned back to God than a whole bunch of other people who are already there.    What’s He saying?   Being motivated to bring one person at a time back to God is the greatest motive you could ever have in life!   No kidding!   If you have to “buy em a beer” in order to do it … buy it!

I Don’t See the Need …

“I wasn’t raised in the church, or my church experience was very disappointing!   Why should I try again?”

I don’t see the need to follow God, Jesus, Buddha or the Tooth Fairy.   My life with or without is the same … really!   Inside my head are tons of questions, thoughts and doubts, and if you’re honest, they’re in your head too!

“I don’t go to church because it’s filled with hypocrites.   They say one thing and do something else.   I don’t think they would accept me for who I am anyway.”

“Believing in something I can’t see, feel or touch seems foolish.   I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of others!”

“My life seems to be the same whether I profess faith in Jesus or not.   Why bother?”

“I don’t understand why Jesus has not answered my prayers.   After all, I simply asked for the “best” for another person.   Yet, I am told that I should continue to put my faith in Jesus even though I didn’t get the response I wanted.   This makes me wonder “why?”

All of these are good and important questions regarding faith in God.   And yes, if we are honest, we all have had them or still wrestle with them to this day.   So how do I even begin to answer these questions, which really are questions surrounding the purpose of life?   How do I make relative and believable the relationship that the church says God wants to have with me?   It seems so far-fetched!   Maybe I can pick away at these questions one at a time?

“I wasn’t raised in the church, and it doesn’t seem relevant!   Why should I care?”

Having never been raised in the church or had any positive experiences in regards to it, is not the end of the world!   In fact, maybe it’s a good beginning?   Let’s face it, we always have to start somewhere.  Whether its in a new job, a new subject in school or a new relationship we always have a beginning.   It’s a fact of human life.   Its like the first time I wrote a check.   I was young and had just opened my first checking account.   I had a whopping hundred dollars in it!  

At the mall that day my hand quivered as I wrote the amount of the check in the wrong area.   Then with the eyes of the cashier beaming down on me I stumbled to write my name in block letters instead of signing my name.   Why?   I don’t know, just nervous, I guess.   Anyway, I was just starting to feel somewhat confident and accomplished when the cashier handed the check back to me and said; “Congratulations, you just wrote a check to yourself!”

“No problem,” I said.   Everyone makes mistakes, just like the time I used hot sauce instead of pizza sauce when making a pizza for the kids.   But this is not just a simple mistake.   This is important.   This is how business is conducted, it will have an affect on my life.   I gotta know this stuff!   So, I made the commitment that day to learn all of the ins-and-outs of check writing regardless of what should come my way.   Later that day, with check photo copies in hand, I sat down to “learn” something new, something important, how to properly write a stupid check while the world starred me down!

Maybe church (or faith in Jesus) is important too?   Maybe I need to learn about the reality of Jesus and His church, and not just discount it away as meaningless.   Possibly this is another moment of “check writing” that I need to investigate and see if it is really worth pursuing?   Maybe it’s the “way” things are done, life is accomplished.    Whatever the case, I need to check this out.

Like all things in life, we make them relevant or not.   We chose to ascribe various levels of importance to things and ideas.   Relevance is directly tied to many things that directly affect our lives.   Is it relevant that someone living a thousand miles away should hold a wild party one night?   Probably not, it won’t affect me or my life at all.   Is it relevant that my part of the world receives a certain amount of annual sunlight?   Sure, that affects me directly.   Without the sunlight there will be no crops, food or days at the beach, right?   Consequently, I ascribe “value” or “relevance” to each situation of life.

As a Pastor I see a lot of death.   Its what I call a part of the life cycle.   People are born, then live and then they die.   So, what’s the point?   What’s the purpose?   What comes next?   Is it relevant?   How does it affect me?   What’s the deal?   Well, it all seems to circle around the meaning (or purpose) of life when you consider it.   This is something I’m told the church should be able to unwrap for me.   Huh?

Church first of all is a human gathering of broken hypocrites who believe in the relevance and existence of God.   The church believes that God does exist and that it is important for us individually and collectively to pursue Him.   The church is simply one place to look for Him.   Unfortunately, many people get turned off on pursuing God because of the poor experiences they have with “church people.”   I think its super important to remember that “church people” are just broken hypocrites too!   Dude, they’re writing checks to themselves too!

When you survey life, and look into the windows of history, time and the universe, without hesitation you realize that there’s “gotta be a reason, a purpose behind it all.”   Why would all of this exist, and where can I find meaning and purpose too?   This happens to be the basis for the twelve major world religions that exist today.   Well, the Christian church is supposed to be one of the “signpost” God has established pointing us to His desire to have a relationship with each one of us.   Its supposed to be clear.   But of course, its not.  

In answering the question about “why should I care (about the church and faith),” we find part of the answer resting in the physical world around us.   Where did all this come from?   Did it really come crawling outta the ooze billions of years ago?”   Even scientist today reference what they call “intelligent design” or “a creative force.”   In other words, even science confirms that there must be more to life than just this, and it is reasonable to assume that knowing the “designer” or “creator” has tremendous relevance for our future.   And by the way, all of the twelve major world religions agree on one thing: the next life (or reality) will last forever.

So why care about church?   Why make it relevant?   I remember when I was young my parents and others always promoted the value in starting a savings plan early in life.   They talked about how later, when I was older, I would be glad that I started saving when I did.   Well, I didn’t listen.   Ya, I floundered around and spent everything I earned year after year.   But today, when the possibility of retirement is just around the corner, I realize the value of looking ahead.   Church is simply looking ahead.

The church experience, while I know this sounds iffy, should be a time of exploration and renewal.   In church we should find answers to many of life’s big questions, not a bunch of feel good stuff that seems unbelievable and irrelevant.   In church, those with questions should find a place of peace, acceptance and comradely, right next to the hypocrite.   Just sayin … give it a try … really!

#relevantfaith

If we’re making the rules …

If we’re making the rulesthen where does that leave “obedience?”

Its really a very interesting dilemma.   As Christians, if “we” are the ones that set the rules to live by, then where does that leave us when Jesus makes statements like He did in John 14:15?   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”   It seems to me that God is quite capable of giving His people instructions, in fact we see that all through Scripture.   God giving instructions on how to live, what to do and what not to do.

Then comes the issue of sexuality in the UMC.   I know, I know, Jesus never said anything about human sexuality, but what He did do was to affirm the validity and truth of God’s Holy Word in Scripture.   If Jesus insist on obedience to Himself, and by His affirmation Scripture also, would it be fair of Him not to tell us what to do?   I don’t think so.   In fact, it would be a sick joke of sorts to insist on obedience and then say “you figure it out.”

When the topic of Biblical obedience comes up, ultimately the Old Testament laws that we do not follow anymore are mentioned.   This is a heavy and huge issue that deserves explanation in a future blog.   This issue centers around the culture, the types of laws, such as being civil, ceremonial or moral in nature, and also the issue of God’s requirement of obedience.   I’ll be writing on that soon.

But our dilemma today is one of following the churches interpretation of God’s requirement of obedience and exactly what the rules are.   Do we as human beings have the right to interpret holy laws, or are we simply conforming to the world?   When we earnestly pray and seek God’s Spirit to guide us, and don’t receive the outcome we desired, does that mean that God rejected our plea?   Or are we becoming worldly and simply pouting?

If God can create life from nothing, if God can know me before I was ever conceived, if God can do all of the stuff, He says He can in Scripture, can He not write me a love letter and give me instructions on how to live for Him?   Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t like what happened at the GC2019 either.   It simply comes down to this; God what do You want me to do?   How do You want me to live?   I realize I might not like it, or agree with it, but do You really require me to place Your will over my natural instincts and ingrained human desires?   Is that what You mean when You say to love You with everything I have?

Yes, yes, yes, I remember what Jesus said…

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If love is all that is required and takes precedence over obedience, then why did Jesus have to die for sin?   Is the issue of obedience summed up in verse 37 where Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?”   I believe that Jesus is the ultimate example of living a life that honors God and serves Him faithfully.   Jesus didn’t just love God the Father, He died on a cross because of His obedience to the will of God.   I guess that brings up the question for me; what am I dying for in obedience to God?   My will?   My natural desires and inclinations?   My preferences?   My understanding of what “love” is?   Did Jesus not subdue all of His human nature for the sake of an obedient death on the cross?

Today you hear a lot about love and inclusivity.   Jesus was a wonderful example of both.   He accepted everyone, went to everyone and showed His love to everyone.   But in no way did Jesus ever demonstrate that love means acceptance of behaviors that are deemed sinful in Scripture.   I know that this idea is unpopular.   Jesus was constantly telling people to change their hearts, to turn away from sinful behavior, not celebrate it.   This concept goes way back into the Old Testament.

Joel 2:13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Was Eve totally responsible for her actions that day in the Garden, or was she drawn to the tree because of her God given inquisitive nature?   Was Cain totally responsible for his act of murder against his brother Able?   Wasn’t his nature designed by God?   Was the jealousy in his heart towards his brother a natural aspect of who he was?   And it goes on.   Did Noah have to overcome his human nature to devote his life to such a ridiculous task of building a ship in the middle of nowhere?   What about Abraham?   Did he have to overcome any aspects of how he was created to trust in God and actually raise the knife to his own son?   Then there is Moses, what struggles did he have in overcoming his nature in order to live an obedient life before God?

There are no easy answers.   And to simply say that “loving” everyone means to accept every type of behavior I believe is wrong.  This doesn’t mean that I like it.   In the Christian walk, human nature has to be overcome.   Jesus demonstrated this, in that He included everyone, but never condoned behaviors that scripture deemed as sinful and we might deem at natural.   Can we not follow His example and live according to God’s Word?