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

Love is…

Love is patient, love is kind…

Love is..., True Love 4, 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13. I won’t label it overused, but it has definitely become cliché’ in marriage ceremonies. Read within its context, Paul is hardly doing marriage counselling! The church at Corinth has revamped their definition of spirituality to be based upon individual talents. Those considered the most spiritual were the best at their trade, the most eloquent speakers, the wisest advisers, the most talented musicians; these people were considered the closest to God. (Does that sound eerily familiar with the modern church to anyone else?) Paul is not defining love to Corinth so that the boys know how to make the girls’ hearts melt or so that the girls know how they should expect a guy to treat them, he his blatantly rebuking Corinth for screwing up spirituality and totally rejecting what Jesus taught and died teaching.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong-doing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Replace ‘love’ with your name in these verses. Does it describe you? Maybe a little?

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind, it is envious and proud; arrogant and rude. It insists in its own way, is irritable and resentful; rejoices in misfortune and is skeptical of truth. Hate bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing, only when it is convenient and benefits themselves.

Replace the ‘hate‘ with your name in this version of the passage. Does it sound more or less like you? I honestly do not expect anyone to admit, even to themselves, that they are more like the second version of verses 4-7 than the first. No one likes to admit their flaws, particularly those that impact other people (like your ability to love). If you are serious about loving well, give these descriptions of love and hate to someone close to you, let them tell you which best describes the love you’re putting out.

At the end of the day, love focuses on others, hate focuses on self. Where’s your focus?

Ignoring the Giver

You only need the light when it’s burning low

Only miss the sun when it starts to snow

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low

Only hate the road when you’re missing home

Only know you love her when you let her go.

‘True Love’ began today. In this series we’re going to explore relationships from God’s perspective. Married, dating, friendships, acquaintances, strangers, God has a specific design for doing every manner of relationship successfully. We are going to dive in and strengthen ourselves by embracing responsibility in human interaction. 

We begin this series at the most basic level, what is love? God is love, so to ask the question, ‘what is love?’ is to also ask ‘who is God?’ John 3:16, the most quoted, memorized, and Googled verse in the Bible, sums up the love God has for the world in a five-word phrase, “He sent His only son”. Without proper context, this verse can lead people to believe God loves us above Jesus, just for who we are as His creation. This assumption is incorrect. At this point in history, creation is held captive by darkness (as it remains today), totally corrupted by sin and selfishness. There is nothing attractive about the world to be loved. God’s deep affection that inspired Him to send Jesus is not a reflection of our beauty but a reflection of His grace. Throughout the history of the world, God sent representatives to proclaim His love for humanity. He finally showed up to tell us Himself in the form of Jesus because we refuse to listen. God relentlessly pursues us, not out of a deep drive to reconcile Himself with humanity, but out of unfathomable compassion and desire to reconcile us with Himself.

“Spiritual idolatry is enjoying the gifts while completely ignoring the giver of those gifts.” – David Platt

The life of the prophet Hosea is a direct analogy to God’s relationship to humanity. Hosea’s tale starts with a call from God to take a wife, but not just any wife, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness”. God calls Hosea and says “Pick a whore, any whore, marry her and adopt her bastard children as your own” Guys, how would you like to bring that girl home to meet you parents? I can’t imagine mom and dad would be all too enthused about having a prostitute for a daughter-in-law and being instant grandparents to her children. Hosea, being more afraid of God than of man, did as he was told and married a prostitute named Gomer, taking in her and her children.

Marriage does not change Gomer’s lifestyle (is anyone surprised?). The way he rest of chapter one is worded leaves the fatherhood of children born after her marriage to Hosea in doubt. Despite Gomer’s lewdness, Hosea remains faithful. He even brings groceries to the home of one of Gomer’s Johns, handing them to the man sleeping with his wife and requests they be given to Gomer as being from Hosea. The John takes the food to Gomer, but turns the ownership around and claims they are a gift from himself. Despite this blatant abuse, Hosea remains faithful.

The relationship between Hosea and Gomer is a direct analogy of the relationship between God and Israel. Gomer constantly and remorselessly abuses Hosea by taking advantage of his character. Throughout history to the arrival of Jesus, Israel’s treatment of God is just as hostile. Since the direct contact between God and the world through the person of Jesus, that conflict rages between light and dark with humanity’s relationship to God the central focus.

Like Gomer received resources necessary to keep her and her children alive from Hosea despite her lack of gratitude and returned affection, we are each gifted the resources we need to survive by God but very rarely acknowledge Him as our life’s source. We are quick to accuse God in hard times, but shift praise to ourselves in times of prosperity. Any gain we experience is categorized as the spoils of our hard labor and acquired skills, losses incurred are out of our realm of control and thereby fall on God by default.

“I will put and end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts” – Hosea 2:11

Israel religiously celebrated days scheduled to recognize God while ignoring Him the other days. God supplied Israel with the resources to celebrate, but is now preparing to take away those resources so that Israel will acknowledge their origin.

“And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lover and forgot me, declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:13

Ignoring the Giver, True Love 1

Two songs played through my mind during the sermon today; “Let Her Go” (Passenger, 2012) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers, 1971). Both of these songs lament the loss of a love that was taken for granted. Only after the love is gone is it appreciated. This often happens between God and individuals. Only after He removes His hand and our life spirals into chaos do we finally see the role He’s played the whole time. Today’s drawing shows that in the form of a dry, cracked and dying landscape with a solitary pool of water. The cracks in the land were not present until the water that once filled the area departed. Acknowledge God in your life now, do not force Him to move in order to be seen.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

It’s not warm when she’s away

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone 

and she’s always gone too long

anytime she goes away.

How Precious Did That Grace Appear

If we only conclude the problem is “out there”, we completely miss the concept of grace. The problem is always “in here.”

Jonah’s adventure is the gospel in literary form. Grace, fall from grace, consequences, anger, repentance, and the return to grace. In no way can I judge the heart of Jonah as he found himself washed up on a Mediterranean beach. What I do know, is that he accepted his mission and made his way to Nineveh. I imagine, from his retreat into exile that led to his three-day isolation, he still has some apprehension about this trip. Nineveh is the bully of the world at this point. Jonah would like nothing more than to see God eradicate this city from the earth, yet his mission is to lead Nineveh into God’s grace.

The literary tool heavily used in the recount of Jonah’s tale is one which expresses the largeness of the main players and the circumstances. God is a big. Nineveh’s sin was big. The storm was big. The fish was big.

Our semblance to Jonah is becoming increasingly clear. Though we are not all commissioned to preach repentance to a major city, we are all called to something bigger than ourselves.  The bigness of Jonah’s adventure is not emphasized by chance. Putting ourselves in Jonah’s shoes, the first thing we’ll discover is the bigness of our sin. No matter how pure a façade you put on or how good you think you are, things are always worse than they appear. You never find yourself immersed deeper into sin than when you see others as worse sinners than yourself. If we only conclude the problem is “out there”, we completely miss the concept of grace. The problem is always “in here”; your decisions, your motives, your attitude, your hypocrisy, your selfishness. Sin is no respecter of persons, selfishness freely invades the mind of every human being. Recognizing the presence and tactics of this enemy is the first step toward taking back your self-control.

Once we ourselves and our sin in perspective of its bigness, the massiveness of God’s grace is brought into focus. Grace is also no respecter of persons. God freely offers His grace to all humanity, regardless of their past. Grace is freely available through repentance, no questions asked. Even Nineveh, who blended extreme narcissism and extreme brutality into a way of life, had God’s graciousness liberally spread over them at the moment of their repentance.

After grace comes commission. Our responsibility is to choose grace through repentance, we then prove our honor by our service. Like His grace, God’s mission is enormous. The creator of all things is heartbroken over the selfish path His creation has taken. His mission is to re-create all of creation through the lens of perfect selflessness. Nineveh was not the only target in God’s mission for Jonah. Jonah, the sailors on their way to Tarshish, Nineveh, Israel, you, me; we are all targets in God’s mission objective.

Jonah made the mistake of thinking Nineveh’s destiny rested souly on his shoulders. He was just as self-consumed as Nineveh, believing it was only by his grace that God’s could be offered. After delivering a intentionally blunt and vague warning to Nineveh, the city did the thing that Jonah feared most; they mourned over their sin and repented so corporately that God spared the city.

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

Nineveh’s outward expression of repentance is the image that stuck in my mind as Dean spoke this morning. To be so broken that weeping alone is insufficient for expressing your grief. Only by reducing your physical self to the lowest stature your culture recognizes, replacing your soft cotton clothes with a rough burlap sack and covering your head with dirt and ashes decomposing on the floor of a fire pit, there is little question of the integrity of one’s mourning at this point.

One of my medium’s of choice is charcoal. I enjoy the raw, natural feel of drawing with compressed ashes and using the natural oils in my fingertips to manipulate the hue and intensity of the charcoal color. I started today’s drawing by expressing the grief of Nineveh, covering the page with a heavy layer of vine charcoal. Next, I firmly pressed my open right hand onto the page, removing charcoal from the page and leaving an impression of my skin. With the hand defined, I darkened the area around the hand with compressed charcoal and blended it into the vine charcoal with my finger. Pressing my hand onto the page once more, I pulled off any compressed charcoal that spilled over into the white space and created this finished image.

How Precious Did That Grace Appear, Jonah 3

God’s grace is substantial enough to remove every blemish from your soul. His grace is bigger than your past. By His hand, He can make all things clean again.

You are Jonah, but your story is not about you. Look at Him.

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton, ‘Amazing Grace’

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.