Grace – Let Go of the Rope

Let Go of the Rope, Jonah 2, Journey Church, 7-10-16

Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.

For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.

From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.

With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.

As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of  competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.

We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.

No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.

Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.

I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.

What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?

Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.

There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.

This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.

Give.

For the Christian on the DONE side of love, the question is not ‘How much should I give?’ The question is, ‘How much do I dare to keep?’

Give. 1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Give as you have been given.

and

As you have been given, give.

and

Give as you have been given.

and

The Man Code

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Men have a basic code we live by that sets our standards for ethics, morality, judgement and behavior. Unfortunately, these standards have been compromised by social pressures and manged to fit personal agendas until a boy has to be careful he’s following the correct code to be a man. ‘True Love’, week 2 cuts through the smoke and makes the path to manhood clear.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28

This passage in Genesis recounts the moment humans came into existence. Now, before you stop reading, I’m not going on a Ken Hamm rant here. Today’s blog is not about the accuracy of a literal seven-day creation or the validity of evolutionary creationism. I am focusing on the established images and roles of male and female homo sapiens, specifically the me.

This passage has been totally butchered by societies for centuries. The primary flaw in these distortions is to twist this passage to be establishing a hierarchy for the home resulting in male dominance and female subservience. Insecure, super-religious men will often reference this moment in history to extort their way into power and domineer their family. The words of these verses proposes quite a different scenario. God explicitly establishes the equality of men and women in two simple phrases; “So God created man (‘man’ being a generic word for humans) in his own image…male and female he created them.”

God created men and women with equal value, but different roles. God creates both men and women as a reflection of himself (v.26), then commands them to cooperatively be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth (v.28). The concept of male superiority is imagined by the inspiration for the creation of Eve as a “suitable helper” (Gen 2:20). As we have just read, God’s process of creative development established the existence of male and female before any groundwork began, Eve was not created as an afterthought, as reading Genesis 2:20 out of context can be misinterpreted to say.

So if the Genesis creation story is a clean slate which establishes men and women as totally equal, where do men find their code for that relationship? Us men are very black and white, what are the rules? Ephesians 5:25 gives men a clear directive for relating to women, particularly in marriage. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Rule numero uno for a successful marriage, men? Get over yourself.

Let me break this down into a simple list for the guys out there, because that’s what we can understand. Men, your responsibility when it comes to women and your family is:

Lead. This doesn’t mean you make all the decisions or that you’re always right, it simply means you can take charge and do what needs to be done in any given situation.

Love. Real, selfless, genuine love. Mushiness not required. Need tips on what love is? Patience, kindness, keep your ego in check, honest. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Provide. Providing is a subjective role to your situation. In some cases, this means the male brings home the majority of the family income. In others, the man takes care of household responsibilities so the woman can bring home the bacon. In any case, providing is taking on the role of making the long and short term goals of your family happen. How that manifests is determined by how well you lead.

Protect. Dean gave some great illustrations on protecting this morning. Men with any hint of chivalry Naturally place themselves in positions to be protectors. What real man, upon hearing a strange sound in the house at 2am, asks their wife to go check it out? No self-respecting man ever puts a woman in danger to protect himself. Opening doors, walking on the side of traffic when you’re out on a date, picking up the check (even when it’s not a date), walking her to her car or to the door at night. The key is, none of these acts of kindness are performed with any expectation of return. You are nice because it is only natural for you to be nice, no ulterior motives. Guys, you need to teach your son’s how to treat and respect a woman. If you didn’t get those lessons growing up, learn from someone you respect, then teach it to your kids.

Honor. What is honor? High esteem, regard with great respect, fulfill with integrity, a privilege. All of these phrases apply to a man’s responsibility to a woman.

The introduction and festering of sin in the lives of men has made this and pretty much every other natural role much easier to say than to accomplish. Sin leads men to abdicate their responsibilities and abuse their authority. Instead of leading their family, sin makes men irresponsible and absent from the lives of people who depend on them the most. How often do you catch flak for the hours you put in at work or the time you spend on the ball field? Those are red flags that you are failing to lead.

Sin turns love into only a temporary physical condition. Men who dominate over their wives and children as a strict authoritarian do not know love. Cowards who prey on women thirsty for love for a cheap release then disappear at the drop of a dime, these men do not know love. Here’s a quick litmus test if you’re not sure how well a lover you are; when you enter the room, do your children (a) smile and cheer your name (b) fail to notice or (c) quietly cower where they are until you give them permission to continue whatever they were doing – either by your actions or your ignorance. If you answer anything but (a), you have a red flag to handle.

Men who do not provide for their family’s success are tangled in sin. If I asked you to list off a few things your wife dreams of one day accomplishing, could you even name one? What about your kids? Do you know what gets them excited? What they value? What goals they may have? Self-absorbed men know nothing of anyone unless it benefits themselves. If no answer immediately came to mind as answers to these questions. Get over yourself and get to know your family tonight. Pizza, root beer, and Star Wars sets the tone for me and my boys! Here again, this goes back to leading. Men who lead well, do whatever needs doing to provide.

Protect. I think we covered this one well, don’t be a wuss. Man-up and take care of your family. Protection is not just physical. It is emotional and spiritual. If you have anger issues, protect your family from yourself. Get to know God and introduce your family to him by your example.

Honor is the all-encompassing attribute for the man code, accompanied by integrity. If you respect someone, you will care for them; if you honor them, you will care for them above yourself. Integrity is knowing your principles and standing your ground. Men of integrity do not compromise their morals, even when it’s convenient. If you have no honor, or can’t spell integrity, turn in your testicles because you’re out of the man club.

Today’s opening image is a sculpture of Atlas literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. The primary role of Atlas in Greek Mythology was to be the force that held the earth steadfast within the galaxy. Husbands, dads, men, this is precisely our job in the home. One of our roles is to hold our world in place within the realm of life, whatever needs to happen to keep the family going, that’s your job. Every man pictures himself in this position at some time, successfully carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Strength, integrity, honor, these are the top qualities of manhood every guy claims (but few actually own). Inside the “world” the Atlas figure carries are characteristics of Biblical manhood.

Juxtaposed to the Atlas figure is a fun house mirror. Carnival house are fun, they aren’t called “Fun Houses” for nothing! Bending a mirror distorts the reflection you see. In this case, the man code carried by the Atlas figure is distorted into the negative attributes that describe too many “men” in modern culture. Instead of honorable, loving providers and protectors, the reflection is that of insecurity, absence, irresponsibility and selfishness which then demands respect. The self-image does not match the reflection. Sin supports the mirror that tells men they are being Atlas by holding to the characteristics in the mirror.

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Men. If the way people treat us is a reflection of our treatment of them, pay more attention to your reflection that you do to yourself.

Protect and embrace the man code.

Lead, love, honor, provide and protect.

Save Me From Myself

As we determined last week, the story of Jonah is the story of us all. We are each faced with forks in our road, moments where the decision you make forever impacts all those around you. Today, we shift our focus intrinsically and reveal what that means for you personally.

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas

and the flood surrounded me, all your waves and your billows passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight;

yet I shall look again on your holy temple.

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me, weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land whose bars closed on me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you in your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols, forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed, I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!

This was Jonah’s prayer as he breathed from the belly of the sea monster.

Sanctification, 1-12-14, Jonah 2

While the choices we make implement a butterfly effect that leaves unchangeable marks on the lives of everyone in its range, each decision leaves permanent marks on our individual lives as well. Though many leave their marks unnoticed, these scars forever map our journey through life. For better or worse, our choices trace the road we’ve chosen and serve as a guide to those who come after us.

Jonah’s decisions led him down paths where he was venerated and exalted by his peers to suffering and isolation where being cast into the sea was in the best interest of those closest to him. After running from the mission God set before him, Jonah found himself cowering beneath the deck of a fishing vessel while his new friends brave the wrath of the sea brought on by his disobedience. He finally concedes to God’s persistence and confesses his responsibility for the situation along with its remedy, removing him from the situation. His fellow sailors, quite reluctantly, launch Jonah into the raging water, all the time begging the God Jonah just tangibly introduced them to for mercy. Only then, when the environment created by his own choices becomes too overbearing, does Jonah cry out to God for help.

God provides the world with a fool-proof navigational system to guide us both day and night, which sailors on Jonah’s journey primarily relied upon. While the sun guides vessels during the day, patterns in the stars guide ships at night. Mediterranean sailors in 5th and 4th century BC used the constellation Cetus as one of their guides. Cetus, known today as ‘The Whale’, was once coined as ‘The Sea Monster’. Sailors who set off in the direction of Cetus were said to be “sailing into the belly of the beast”. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of Jonah use words which literally translate ‘great fish’ to describe the place Jonah found himself after he was thrown from the ship to Joppa.  4th century Greek translations change this word to Cetus. From that, William Tyndale gave us the English translation of ‘whale’ in Jonah’s adventure. Whether Jonah was swallowed by a literal fish or if we are reading sailors’ slang and Jonah miraculously survived three days on the open sea by God’s mercy, (having been tossed into “the belly of the beast”), I am not sure. Either interpretation makes Jonah’s story no less of a miracle, but I do find it interesting Jonah never thanks God for providing a fish to swallow him, but does express gratitude for protecting him from specific perils of the open sea (i.e. the waves and billows, the deep which surrounded him, the seaweed wrapping around his head).

Something else is missing from Jonah’s prayer, repentance. Not once does Jonah acknowledge his disobedience to God. His entire prayer is a cry for help to get him out of the mess he created. This arrogance is a place many of us will find ourselves, likely on more than one occasion. We become so invested in our own sin that, instead of taking responsibility for the circumstances we’ve created, we bathe in our refuse until the environment becomes too putrid to bear. Only then, whining out of our voluntary discomfort, do we cry out to God and beg for His intervention. In His unfathomable mercy, God will respond to our cries as a devoted father and pull us up from our filth, but his answer to our insatiable desire to return to the muck came centuries ago through His son, Jesus.

Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may find salvation though him, a way out of our cycle of failure and disappointment, but salvation is not a one-time deal. Salvation, embracing Jesus as your savior by committing your life to forever emulating his, is the kick-starter for your continual process of sanctification while you walk the earth. Christians refer to someone professing their faith in Jesus as “being saved”. I prefer the phrase quoted by Brennan Manning which was commonly used in the 1930’s, “I’ve been seized by a great affection”. Jesus died to save us from our sin, but he also rose so that we may be daily saved from ourselves.

I have been seized by a great affection so that I may show great affection. God loves in us what is not yet. We love in people what they already are: virtue, beauty, courage, and hence making our love self-interested and fragile. We must learn to love people as God does, empowering them to spread His love further.

May your choices map out a life spent in selfless love that inspires generations.

The Mountains Melt

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice,

let the many coastlands be glad.

Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;

righteousness and justice are the formation of His throne.

Fire goes before Him

and burns up His adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees and trembles.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,

before the Lord all of the earth.

The heavens proclaim His righteousness

and all the peoples see His glory.

All worshippers of images are put to shame

who make their boasts to worthless idols;

worship Him, all you gods!

Psalm 97: 1-7

The Mountains Melt

Lord – a person who has authority, control or power over others; a master, a chief, a ruler.

Philippians 2:9-11

God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him a name that is above every name.

The word ‘name’ in this passage is referring to more than the one Mary gave him at his birth. Jesus, while being a name that raises hope, strikes fear, and is often surrounded by controversy, it is not above every other name. The name being referred to here is Jesus’s title, his position. Jesus is the Christ, the I am, the Most High. He is Lord.

How frequently have you used ‘lord’ in the last week? “Dear, lord….” “Oh, lord!” “Lordy, lordy!” Too many to count? What do you mean when you say that word? Do you even know? ‘Lord’ is not a convenient term that was coined to add emphasis to a statement of surprise or frustration, it is an authoritative term carrying serious weight. Those who carry the title of “Lord’ own unquestionable authority over people, places or both. Those of nearly every faith assign God, alone the title of Lord. To imply another being, human at that, is ‘Lord’ is blasphemous. To make a statement like that in 3 A.D. Jerusalem is a death wish.

Carry that weight of the position over into this verse. God is making an undeniably clear statement, Jesus is Lord. God. The one who is Lord Himself. He says Jesus is Lord. The game just changed.

I do not fault a person using a “curse word” around me, provided that use the word in context. When you say a word synonymous with feces, make sure what you are referring to is logically associated with fecal matter. Otherwise, you just sound like an idiot. This is applicable to any word. Words that carry supreme authority should be used with extreme caution and respect.

Many people today claim the position of being Christian, not really understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Being Christian is not a matter of paying dues, associating with one group while avoiding others. You cannot claim Jesus as your Savior without also claiming Him as your Lord.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father. Matthew 7:21

Christ, Kairos, YHWH, the Most High,

Jesus Christ is Lord.

All will acknowledge Him, whether willingly or not.

Who is He to you?