Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On Loving Your Neighbor

We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
Rescue me from my rebellion.
Do not let fools mock me. (Psalm 39:6-8)
Compare this with Acts 2:44-47:
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.
And Acts 4:32-35:
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
I sought out these verses in Acts this morning as part of my ongoing quest to understand what Jesus really intended for his followers. In other words, what does following Jesus really look like? Minutes later, I resumed my daily reading, which follows the Bible-in-a-year plan. This morning's psalm was number 39.

I am shocked, once again, by the relevance of this psalm to our modern life. Western culture is a culture focused on productivity--do more in less time. It's a culture of abundance, dominated by consumerism and greed. More, more, more. More money, a house that's larger-than-life, a bigger 401K, a newer car, the latest gadget, a promotion.

As we allow these concerns to dominate our life, we stray from a life of meaning.

Our only hope--for fulfillment, for joy, for peace, for the satisfaction of a life lived well--is in God. Many of us nod our heads at that statement, but then wonder what that really means. I submit that the answer is found in a conversation with Jesus recorded in Luke 10:25-28.
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” 
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” 
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
Psalm 39 reminds us that our lives are short, yet we have this terrible tendency to get lost in the busy-ness of every day life. Despite what our culture tells us, this is not the life Jesus called us to live! He tells us that there is another way, and it leads to life: Make God the center of your life--love him and seek him with everything you have, and take care of each other.

It is a high call to "love your neighbor as yourself," and for the most part, this concept is entirely lost on our culture. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. The "isms" that dominate our culture--individualism, capitalism, consumerism, nationalism, racism--don't leave much room for concern for others. Most of us inherited this mindset. Since we've blended it with our Christianity from the very start, it's hard to see, much less admit, that it's not the life God intended for us. The aforementioned verses in Acts 2 and 4 demonstrate the application of this command, lest we remain unconvinced. The apostles and the earliest church took Jesus at his word and cared for their neighbor as if they were caring for themselves. This is more than "being a good neighbor." This is loving your neighbor.

This is where I am right now. The Holy Spirit has awakened me to this truth, and I am now sitting at the crossroads of selfishness and love of others. The more I read, the more it is confirmed: I am not meant to live a life centered around me. I'm meant to live a life centered around God and others.

P.S. You are, too, you know. ;)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Daily Smile: 1 Corinthians 14:33

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Where is there disorder in your life? When do you feel disorganized and flustered? When and/or where is life chaotic? Take a moment to ask yourself these questions.

You've just created a list of areas of your life in which to invite God's presence. As scripture says, our God is a God of peace. Where He is, peace reigns.

Don't settle for chaos in your life; disorder and chaos are never from God. Instead, invite God into those moments with you. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you peace amidst the chaos, and to show you a way to bring order and peace. Sometimes God will empower you to completely change the situation. Even in situations where the chaos seems out of your control (maybe your workplace is chaotic, for example), God can give you peace amidst the chaos! He gives a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Daily Smile: Matthew 6:31-34

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matt. 6:31-34 NLT)

Friends, we’re not talking about some distant God wagging a finger at you as he looks down from heaven. We’re talking about a deeply personal God who knows what we need because he’s on the front lines with us. He’s not looking down and shaking his head, thinking we could do better. He’s right here with us—each of us—reminding us that he’s already got this covered. Our worries are for nothing! 

Resist the urge to feel as if you’re unworthy of God’s provision because you’re not righteous enough. Remember that God came to us through his son Jesus, and Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He didn’t wait for us to become better, or become perfect, and then sacrifice himself for our good. There is no perfection this side of heaven! Heaven is the place where everything will be made right. Until then, our job is to keep seeking the Kingdom, keep allowing the Holy Spirit to make us more Christlike.

If you aren’t seeking God, this is your call to action. If you are, this is your encouragement to keep pressing on. Either way, I hope you realize that God is with you. He wants to partner with you and live life with you. He wants to help with the heavy lifting. And that day-to-day stuff? He’s already got that covered.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Politics and Jesus: Do They Mix?

I don't doubt that our nation's moral compass is broken, but I do doubt that politicizing Christianity is the answer. My thoughts on this are still evolving, but I felt the need to get them down on paper.

Too funny not to include. 

Question 1: Is America a Christian nation? 
If you had asked me this ten years ago, I would have responded with strong conviction. Of course America is a Christian nation! These days, that question makes me cringe. Hesitantly, I'd say that America is not a Christian nation. America is the home of religious freedom, right? If that's the case, how can it be Christian? 

I've read many arguments for and against the idea that America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. I agree that many of our values are borrowed from a Judeo-Christian worldview, but I don't see how that makes us a "Christian" nation. 

I've read Jonathan Cahn's The Harbinger, which, disturbingly, was promoted by my church a few years ago. It's an engrossing tale that had me convinced that America is in danger of losing God's favor and protection. But when I opened my bible to look up the references, I was shocked to find that Cahn's entire theory was based on one Old Testament verse about the nation of Israel. The whole thing smells like bad exegesis to me, and I'm horrified that my church would promote this as truth. A great tale, absolutely. But truth? Seriously?!

I've also read Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation. This book was equally as shocking as The Harbinger, although for very different reasons. This book was my initial inspiration to question my inherited conviction that America was--and should be--a Christian nation. It's been several years since I read this one, so I can't really comment much more until I re-read it. It's on the list.

Question 2: Should America be a Christian nation? Should we politicize Christianity?
Whether America was or was not founded as a Christian nation, should it be one now? Again, my knee jerk reaction is to say "of course," but after further consideration, I see three main problems with this. 

Problem 1: Which version of Christianity? 
We Christians cannot even agree on Christianity, hence all the denominations and variances. How can we possibly decide which one should govern? 

Problem 2: Laws have limits.
If laws fixed problems, our nation would no longer be facing problems with drugs, healthcare, equality, and more. Laws only go so far. What happens when we make a law based on a "Christian" value and it hits its limit? Let's use abortion as an example. If we outlaw abortion, what happens to all the unwanted children? What happens to all the mothers without the resources to properly care for themselves and their children? These people are presently in crisis, and if we outlaw abortion, they will still be in crisis. If that's the case, how much good can really come from outlawing abortion? I think it's important to consider that this may not be the Christian solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies in America. I'm not saying that abortion is "right" (I do think it's wrong) or that we should support it, but I am saying that fighting to outlaw abortion is shortsighted. 

Problem 3: Politics is divisive.
Political positions draw lines in the sand. While it might seem right to politicize Christianity, it really only alienates us from the people we are called to serve. Let's use same-sex marriage as an example. If we outlaw same-sex marriage because it's the "Christian" thing to do, how can we turn around and minister to those living in homosexuality? Jesus pointed out that those who are healthy don't need a doctor--he came for the sick, the lost, the broken. 

Think about this: Jesus hung out with immoral people--prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks and others. He could have spent his time working to outlaw immoral behavior like prostitution, but instead he focused on ministering to these people. Aren't we called to emulate him? 

Question 3: Was Jesus political?
Was anything Jesus said or did politically oriented? Jesus lived in a politically charged time. The nation of Israel was living under the oppressive and brutal Roman empire. If there was ever a time in history where a political call to action was warranted, this would have been it. But Jesus did not ban the Israelites together to stand against the immoral Roman empire; Jesus only proclaimed the kingdom of God. His kingdom is not of this world--and neither is ours. 

Ultimately, Jesus' solution to sin in the world was self-sacrificial love. If politicizing Christianity is the best way to emulate that self-sacrificial love, then by all means, lets do it. But is that really the case? I'm not convinced.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Another Layer, A Softer Heart

I feel as if I’ve discovered another layer to myself, and I’m struggling to integrate it into my M.O. My status quo is wrecked and I’m on shaky ground. Most moments I’m clinging to my sanity for dear life, but I have no choice but to keep moving forward. It’s not like I can un-discover it.

Image courtesy of Hometone.com
This is all positive growth, but dang, what a mess. 

It all started when I brought down some long-standing walls a few weeks ago. I’m introspective, but even so, I’ve always avoided rocking certain boats. When the walls came down, the boats all capsized, and I’m now forced to work through the very issues I never wanted to face. 

It all started when, for the first time ever, I honestly considered the disturbing question, “Am I racist?” The answer was a horrifying yes. I asked the Holy Spirit to show me any ugliness in my heart, any lies I had believed, any bias I may have formed or inherited. And for the first time, I actually looked: there was a lot!

I was overwhelmed by a mixture of shock, horror, and sadness. I was upset by the fact that I could hold such wretched beliefs, but more than that, I was upset that I had allowed these beliefs to remain for so long. Why hide from myself? I may not have been able to stop all of these beliefs from forming, but I could have allowed God to right the wrongs much sooner. Why did I avoid it? 

It seems there are a lot of uncomfortable questions I’ve avoided. And that’s the season I’m in right now: a season of re-discovering the state of my own heart and mind. Psalm 139:23-24 says it best: 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

I am finally at the point in my walk with the Lord that I’ve asked him to search my heart. This has triggered (and will continue to trigger) some really hard questions. Even though this is challenging—at times, crushing—I can’t help but notice a feeling of awe. You see, my heart was so hard, so closed off. I can walk through my memories and watch my heart grow cold. A cold, hard heart can’t be searched for racism, bias, anger, doubt, or fear—but a soft heart can. And that, folks, is the power of God. 

I haven’t discovered a new layer to myself; I’ve discovered life with a heart that’s been softened by God Almighty.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Daily Reflections

I'm going to start a new thing: I'm going to blog after my quiet time every morning.

I've been following the One Year Bible reading plan since the first of the year. The plan is exactly as it sounds: it divides up the bible into little chunks each day, and by the end of the year, you've read the entire thing. I've never read the entire bible, and I've attempted these sorts of plans in the past with no success. I attribute my success this year to two things: the Holy Spirit (because who can really read the Word without him?) and the NLT (New Living Translation) version I purchased early in the year. The NLT has been a game changer for me; there really is something to the theory that you get more from the version that speaks to you.

This morning I read about King David in 2 Samuel 7-8. I am continually amazed by the Old Testament; indeed, this is my first time reading any of it. I cannot believe I've made it through 31 years of life without ever reading this! Most of what I know of the Old Testament I've learned through sermons, and I realize now that this isn't nearly enough. It's an entirely different experience to hear about parts of a story and then to read the entire story. You must read.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jesus at the Tattoo Shop

I love getting tattooed. I got a new one today, and my husband got one right after. While I was waiting for him, I couldn't help but reflect on the process.

Our new tattoos: King & Queen.
A tattoo artist doesn't hunt you down; you come to him when you're ready. He meets you where you are. Are you ready for a big piece, or looking for something small? Are you nervous about losing your tattoo virginity, or are you a seasoned tattooee? You bring what you have: some ideas, maybe a sketch. He gives you his honest opinion on the placement, style and details of your design, but ultimately, the choice is yours. Finally, when you're ready, he begins his work.

As I reflected on this process, it occurred to me that the way a tattoo artist relates with his customers is similar to how God relates to his lost children. I know that sounds nuts, but hear me out:
  • God doesn't force us into a relationship with him, just as a tattoo artist won't strap you to the chair and force his work on you. The choice is ours. 
  • You come to God as you are. Just like you bring raw sketches and ideas to a tattoo artist, you bring your raw self to God. A tattoo artist isn't expecting you to bring a tattoo-ready design; he fully expects to take your inadequate sketch and make it tattoo-able. In that same way, God receives you with no expectations. The idea that you have to clean yourself up first is a lie! God invites you to come to him as you are. Even if you try to clean yourself up, you'll never be clean enough. Only the blood of Jesus can wipe away the stains of our sins. Thankfully, that's a free gift, and all we have to do is receive.
  • God meets you where you are. Are you ready to die to self and give your life to Christ? Great! Just exploring this thing called faith? That's great, too. Just as a tattoo artist is equally ready to embark on a multi-session journey toward a large piece, or do a tiny, 10-minute starter tattoo, God is ready and waiting to walk with you through whatever season of life--and whatever stage of faith--you're in. 
  • A tattoo artist will be honest: if a design isn't practical, he will say so. He will either alter the design, or draw something new. Like a tattoo design, there are things in the kingdom of God that can be accommodated, and there are some things you may have to give up. Either way, the choice is still yours. You can choose to walk away, or choose to get tattooed. In much the same way, God will never force you into a relationship with him. You can choose to accept His changes to your design, or you can walk away unchanged. The choice is yours.
  • You get tattooed when you're ready. You come to Christ when you're ready. Not a moment before. 
Are you ready? I don't suggest waiting too long. Sure, the end of the world could come at any minute, but why harp on that? You already know! There is a better reason to come to Christ sooner rather than later: fulfillment. God, our creator, holds the keys to our destiny. Isn't that what we all want: to know that we're fulfilling a purpose here on earth? We reach for purpose, value and worth from many different things--career, relationships, accomplishments. None of these things can fill that void in your heart and your life. Your God-given purpose is the only one worth pursuing, and the only one that brings the fulfillment you seek.

The comparison between God and a tattoo artist obviously isn't a direct parallel. No one can parallel God! But God is everywhere, even in places you may deem unworthy of him. He is with you through your tattoo, through your greatest trials, and through your moments of triumph. Along the way, he hopes you'll find him.

Keep your eyes open.