About Face

Self check-out stands in the grocery store have been designed to make me feel stupid.  It seems I wind up doing something wrong every time.  And then the machine calls the attendant over to help out the stupid guy.  Everybody else looks over to see the dunce, who pushed the wrong button and screwed up the process.  Last time, I got successfully all the way through and then put my card in backwards.  Red lights flashed as I waited for the teenaged clerk to show me what to do. It would be nicer if the machine quietly said, “Turn your card around and try again.”  

If you have been doing wrong thing and are stuck, it feels so good to find out what really works.  Remember that, the next time you pull when the door says push.  Remember this, too:  changing your course of action because you learn what works is basically what the word “repent” means.  Repent is a happy word.  “Repent” is how you find the solution to a puzzle, the correct turn when you are lost and the real way to approach God.  The way that works.

We hear “repent” angrily shouted by some red-faced, judgmental religious guy.  We hear the word, repent, and think we should cower in shame.  Nope.  Repent means to change your understanding and try something that works.  We humans have been stumbling, pell-mell, down the road of religion in the wrong direction.   When Jesus came, He knew that would never work.  The first word in His first message was repent.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:17)
To say it another way, “Hey guys, turn around; come this way!”  

Consider…

This is for Democrats.  And Republicans.  This is for Fox News and MSNBC.  For Donald and Hillary, Nancy and Mitch, Chuck and Ted.  It’s for Rush Limbaugh and Kathy Griffin.  This is for you.  And me.

It’s something Jesus said in response to the critics of His day.  It was a different issue, but the truth He spoke is just as relevant and important in the context of our current situation.

He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25b)

Most of us feel like divisiveness in this country came like the rising waters of a flood,. We stood by, helpless and dismayed.  We’re not in places of influence and power.  We shake our heads, bewildered at leaders who don’t seem to recognize the damage being done.  But, there is something we each can do.  We can turn away, refusing to participate in the rhetoric and sarcasm, the distortions and misrepresentations.  Instead,  we can choose to work toward greater understanding, reach out, building bridges of peace.  We don’t need to stand by and watch this “kingdom” be ruined.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

What You See is What You Get

It is important to use your eyes when you consider the miracles of Jesus.  You need “eyes to see” in order to get the full benefit.  Jesus’ miracles usually portrayed deeper truth in symbolic fashion.  For example, when He turned water into wine, the water came from pots used for ritual cleansing.  You have to “see” the difference between washing, done on the outside, and wine, which works from the inside, to see Jesus’ visual lesson.  Religious ritual would be supplanted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In that same way, consider the raising of Lazarus.  In that miracle, clearly Jesus portrays the coming of new, abundant life for the spiritually dead.  But beyond that most obvious symbol, consider this:

The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:44)

Can you “see?”  What is it that “binds” you?  What habit, personality trait, addiction, memory or fear prevents you from fully and gracefully blazing through life?  Jesus showed those with eyes to see He had power to unbind Lazarus.  Can you see He also has that power over what binds you?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8)

Steadfast

You had to bang on the pipes if you wanted hot water at certain times of the day in our first apartment​  Outrageous, since we paid all of $40 a month for this 5 flight walk-up. But it was frustrating because it seemed the flow of water was always interrupted at the most inconvenient times.

Psalm 103 says that God’s love and mercy are steadfast.  Think about that word. When you desperately need to experience love, it can come from no greater source than Almighty God.  And steadfast means, no matter what is going on in your life, you don’t need to bang on the pipes.

Here is a sample:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  (Psalm 103:11-13)

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

Wait for It

Suddenly and unexpectedly slammed with grief, I prayed for comfort. God’s response was specific, clear and effective.  But it was not immediate.  I had to wait. I felt like the guy who prayed, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now!”  For whatever His reasons, God let me wait a bit.  When His comfort came, it washed over me in a sustained way.

But why would God delay, why make me wait?  It’s not as though comfort was on back order.  The All Sovereign Lord of the Universe could have responded instantly.  Why wait? Perhaps it is to help us build faith.

Peter wrote about waiting for God’s promises, saying:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  (`1 Peter 1:6-7) 
James wrote about waiting after praying for wisdom, saying:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)  
As we wait for God confidently and then have that trust vindicated, our “faith muscle” is developed.  As our faith grows, our relationship with God grows stronger.

Perhaps God also makes us wait to give us time to be spiritually strengthened and matured. Isaiah knew about waiting.  He wrote:

“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strengththey shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

Good comedians have a well developed sense of timing.  When one says, “Wait for it…” you know it’s worth the wait.  Better yet when God does.

More Than a Song

A flower spoke to me about worship.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  We were singing in church and I happened to see someone, lost in praise with arms aloft and an expression of abject wonder and joy.  She reminded me of how flowers turn to face the sun and, as they do, receive nourishment and vitality. The strength and life they receive is then manifested in the flower.  In a sense, they glorify the sun by their outstretched beauty.

It struck me that worship works much like that.  We tend to think of worship as an act that is directed toward God, a one-way deal.  But in reality, worship is interactive.  As we turn our attention toward God, praising Him, we also receive new strength and vitality from Him in that process. Like flowers turning toward the sun.  And, like flowers, as we to God in worship, His glory and beauty is manifested in our worship.

9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!  (Psalms 57:9-11)