Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Danger of a Distant God

There is a sense among many Americans that God is there. He is real. Jesus died and rose again. And since I believe that, I'm a Christian.

How very, very dangerous.


As long as God is distant from my everyday choices and thoughts, He is manageable. I can appease Him with a certain level of moral living and keeping my nose clean, going to church occasionally (or, even better, regularly), and making healthy lifestyle choices. Sure, I have a bad day here and there--who doesn't?--at least I'm not going to hell...or so I think.

But something's missing. I'm not sure what. I'm not sure why. What I do know is that when things don't go my way I habitually fight or fly and feel like a coward, or worse, a failure. I see my inner evil but excuse it, ignore it, blame it on everyone else.

In my mind, God is there but distant. He knows. He sees. But Jesus died, so it's all good. Right?

No. Not right. Review the opening statements of this post: Do you believe God is real? That Jesus was a real man, the Son of God? That He died on the cross and rose again? That does not make you a Christian. That makes you a realist.

How? you ask. Think of it this way: Does Satan believe God is real? Yes. Does Satan believe Jesus is a real man, the Son of God? Absolutely. Does Satan know Jesus died on the cross and rose again? Of course. It's his living nightmare. Is Satan a Christian? Never. And he never will be. He is the enemy of the cross, the deceiver, the accuser of the brethren, a murderer and liar.

So what's the difference? I must believe Jesus died for my sin. I must acknowledge my failure and failing, throwing myself on the mercy of God because only He can save me. If I don't beg God to forgive me based on the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus for me, personally, I will bear my punishment in Hell for eternity. That sin is mine, really mine. I am responsible, broken, sinful, needy, unworthy. I cannot fix myself or make it go away. What I need is a God who is close, who not only forgives me but transforms me; a God who makes me a totally new person, inside and out. I can't live my old way of thinking and getting by. I have sold out to God. He is the only One with power and the ability to forgive. It's my way or His. And when I lay down my arms and surrender, I give myself wholly, freely, and completely to the God who made a way to restore and change me.

His good, His best for me, isn't stuff. It isn't happy moments or a sense of accomplishment and trophies on the wall. God's good, my best, is to look at life through His eyes. To see people and circumstances the way He does. To live life the way Jesus did. That is a God near by. That is a God who is intimate, who isn't afraid to get messy, who doesn't shy away from my failure and gross selfishness. This is the God who saves.

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:1-13

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Why I Need a Turtle

So I had one of those "I've-been-ripped-off" moments and I tried, really tried, to reign in my emotions and thoughts. There was a sense of injustice and inequality that needed (!) to be settled in my mind. Although I made an effort and prayed about how to respond instead of react, I will admit that my heart, thoughts, and words were not desiring servitude and humility and much as fairness and acknowledgement of a wrong against humanity (ahem, yes, you know whose humanity).

It's never happened to you, I'm sure, but it happens in our home, in my life, in the lives of those around me, and it's a moment of growth. In the aftermath, the question has changed from, "Did I get what I wanted/deserved?" to "Did I handle that correctly?" And this time around, the question was somewhere in the middle: "Did I do any better than last time? Am I making progress?"

Because the truth of the matter is, life isn't perfect. I won't be seen or treated the way I think I should. My expectations are way (way) off and the other person's are, too. I'm not going to respond perfectly. And that's okay. But am I growing and changing? In the moment, am I seeing my desires for what they really are? Am I sensing my sinful tendency and can I name it? Am I guarding against my natural reaction and tempering it with a better, more thoughtful, God-honoring response?

And as I struggled with my heart, God revealed a very different area of sin than the one I was contemplating. Go figure. I thought I had done things right, considering how I felt. I was not demanding, but I communicated disappointment and asked for reconsideration. And as I listened to the radio, the voice said, So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Oh, that. Well, yes, there is that slow to speak issue which I assume (i.e. overlook) often as my steam-roller passionate persona plows down the road of life with tearful sympathy, excited enthusiasm, or brief, but angry, outbursts.


God said, "Gotcha!"

And I said, "Ouch. Yes, You did..." And now. Now begins the slow, hard work of living out repentance. Slow-ing-down and lis-ten-ing and think-ing and pray-ing before I speak so I can be swift to hear and slow. to. speak...and slow. to. wrath.

And maybe that's why God made turtles. So people like me have an example of God-glorifying intentional, determined direction. And how to take stock of when and where to cross the road--?

Turtles? Sorry. Brain noodling. It's all about Jesus. We're bound to fail. We hurt others. We don't please the Lord in all we say and do. But Jesus did. He stands in my place. He justifies me before God the Father and helps me work through and change here and now with His Word and by His Spirit. And as I slow down (or try to), I can trust Him to change me...and work the outcome to meet His purpose and plan--which He already has. Who could have orchestrated an I-got-ripped-off moment better than God?

And it's all good.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Use yesterday. Live today. Treasure tomorrow.

How often we fail to live well today because we're not using yesterday! Yesterday is a gift--its failures, successes, gifts and losses are meant to be used today. What kinds of things do I want to do differently? Avoid? Or seek after? How can I learn from them?

The greatest gift of the past, Jesus' life, death, burial and resurrection, is intended to be used and applied daily, not forgotten.  I can let go of past hurt and failure because Jesus died for that. I can live a new life because I'm dead to my old self and now I live for Christ, not me. For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Romans 15:4

If I am not relying on the Word of God and the past presented there, I am not living the way I should--or could. God wants me to remember and use the past to live today and push forward into the future.

And how often do we fail to live well today because we're not actually living today? We're living in the past or borrowing from the future--making today both wearisome and difficult.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

Live now. Experience the moment. Laugh. Cry. Hug. Be alive! I need God's Word, His people, and His Spirit right now, this very hour. I need to depend on Him, to lean hard on and rejoice in Him, praise Him, seek Him, rest in Him, delight in Him. All those commands happen now! I can't change yesterday's obedience. I can't live tomorrow. But I have this moment. Am I believing right now? Am I obeying right now? Am I loving, giving and serving right now? This is the only moment I have.

And finally, how often do we fail to live well today because we don't treasure tomorrow? We borrow its trouble. We procrastinate, worry, fume and try to live in tomorrow when we should be looking to, and living today based on, tomorrow's treasure.

...I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

What does the future hold? My future is Jesus. And because I am confident that, not only will I see Him, but I know He gives good rewards, I am living today with my all.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
Amen. Jude 24-25

Use yesterday. Live today. Treasure tomorrow. And be blessed.