God seeks ...

We are told that if we seek God with all our heart, God will be found. (Jeremiah 29:13)

This is a beautiful image - the human soul desiring God and seeking after him with all that is within us. And God, we are promised, wants to be found, and even promises to be found. A strong motivating force.

But have you ever considered that God, too, is a seeker? He is seeking after us...

The parables in Luke 15 play this out:

The Shepherd seeking after the lost sheep...

The Woman seeking after the lost coin...

The Father watching and waiting (seeking, even!) for the lost son...

God is seeking us.

Simon Tugwell puts words to this stunning truth:

"So long as we imagine it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way around - He is looking for us."

When I find myself feeling far from God, when I am not a very good seeker, when the "far country" I often live in feels too far, I rest in this heart-stopping truth - the God who is called "the hound of heaven" never, ever stops seeking after me.

He never, ever stops seeking after you.

There is no one but us ...

In the Old Testament, a trio of people are often cited as deserving special protections from God and God’s people … The fatherless, the widow, the orphan. Often, the foreigner is added to this list.

God knew these people were at risk in the society of the Old Testament … at risk to be marginalized, neglected, oppressed, victimized, even killed.

And so God commanded his people to take special care of these particular people in their midst. He gave special commandments, even made special rules that protected them, gave them chances to enter mainstream society again, helped them escape the noose of generational poverty, protected them from oppression and violence.

And these rules spoke to God’s people and said, “I care for this group of people in a special way, and if you follow me, you must care for them, too!”

Who are the marginalized among us today?

Might they not fit into this same descriptive trio (or quartet)? The fatherless, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.

It matters not your political persuasion, if you are a follower of God, you are to live in such a way that you protect the marginalized, speak up for them, watch out for them, care for them, serve them, give to them, pray for them.

Often, when confronted with the marginalized in our midst, we hope for someone else to help them.

Annie Dillard addresses this common deferral of responsibility:

There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth --- only us … unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and uninvolved. But there is no one but us. There has never been.”

There is no one but us.

God's Mission ...

I remember sitting in a class listening to people answer the question, “What is God’s mission in the world?”

To be honest, I was really disappointed by the answers.

They were almost all kind of individualistic in nature.

Many of them were violent and kind of “end-times” oriented … the idea that all God cared about was getting a bunch of individuals into heaven before he blew the rest of the world to bits.

There were no answers that seemed big enough to be God’s, you know?

My heart and soul were uninspired.

And so I went searching, both in the Bible and from great thinkers: Where could I find a richer, deeper, truer understanding about what God’s mission is in this messed up world?

I went back to one of the modern day classics, NT Wright’s book, Simply Christian, which many compare to CS Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity.

Here’s how Wright spells out God’s mission:

“Christianity is about the belief that the Living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it.

With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been keep chained up.

We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access.

In particular, we are all invited – summoned, actually – to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.

In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”

Now that … that motivates me!

Worship ...

Tonight our A Way of Life class is discussing the chapter from the first manual on worship.

This reminded me that I have Mark Labberton’s book “The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice” on my shelf. So I opened it up and started to read …

Whoa...

I am going to share some of his thoughts over the next few days.

Expect to be disturbed, but in a good way.

Labberton is the new President at Fuller Seminary and I have loved everything I have seen from him. He has a huge heart for Jesus, for the church, and for the radical demands of the Gospel.

Here are some of his opening thoughts:

“When worship is our response to the One who alone is worthy of it – Jesus – then our lives are on their way to being turned inside out. Every dimension of self-centered living becomes endangered as we come to share God’s self-giving heart.

Worship exposes our cultural and even spiritual complacency toward a world of suffering and injustice.

In Jesus Christ, we are called into a new kind of living. Through the grace of worship, God applies the necessary antidote to what we assume is merely human – our selfishness.

Worship sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and God’s purposes in the world.

The dangerous act of worshipping God in Jesus Christ necessarily draws us into the heart of God and sends us out to embody it, especially toward the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed.”

Well now … Do you think his definition of worship might be just a tad bigger than ours?

I saw it ...

Two years ago we went to South Africa to visit my daughter who was studying at the University of Cape Town.

The natural beauty was jaw-dropping.

The culture was rich and fascinating.

The food was drool-worthy.

But the spirit of the place was something I had never felt before.

There was a vague sense of dread in the air. Everything felt a tad unsafe. Unsettled. Unmoored. Festering.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed had multiple locked, gated entries.

Razor wire was everywhere.

We had to buzz in to a really nice restaurant … the neighborhood was too dangerous to have an unlocked entrance.

My daughter’s home had a security guard. If she was at the library late at night, she always called a car to drive her home.

On a wine tour just outside a township, we got stuck in a traffic jam and armed guards showed up on the edges of the highway, protecting us from possible car-jacking.

This was South Africa 20 years after the horror of apartheid.

“The sins of the fathers …” is what I kept thinking of.

To see black and brown people living in shanty towns that spread as far as the eye could see, while white people lived in relative luxury … well, it was just shocking.

But it should be no more shocking to me than living here. I guess sometimes you have to travel to begin to see your own situation with new eyes.

I read these statistics this week and they brought me to my knees for my brothers and sisters in this country:

“The US incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did.”

“In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

It was Christians who brought apartheid to South Africa. They thought God condoned it; even mandated it.

As a Christian in America today, I wonder what role I might be playing in the pain and suffering of my neighbors.

Of all the questions I might ask myself these days, this might be one of the most important.

God is for the poor?

I taught yesterday at one of our satellite venues.

I stated that the way the incarnation happened demonstrates (as does almost all of Jesus’ life) that God's heart, as Philip Yancey writes, tilts toward the underdog.

I shared the Scripture from Isaiah that Jesus read in Luke chapter 4 as he inaugurated his earthly ministry where he announces that God has anointed him to:

“… preach good news to the poor,

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

recovery of sight for the blind

to set the oppressed free …”

After the service, a woman approached me quite vigorously as I tried to sneak out to get home to my family and my warm and comfortable home.

She looked me right in the eye and said,

“I have a question for you:

If God is for the poor, like you said he is, why am I still poor?

Why doesn’t my car start?

Why does my heat get shut off and no one seems to care?

If God is for the poor, why doesn’t he help me?”

“Um,” I said … “I don’t know the answer to your question. God never promised to make you ‘not poor’ but he sure promises to be with you, no matter what.”

Cheezy smile … hoping this answer will appease.

“Well, that is no help to me,” she said.

“I just want to know why I am still poor if you say Jesus came to give me good news. Where is my good news?”

When I got home I told Chuck that Jesus had confronted me about how smoothly words about God’s concern for the poor had dribbled out of my middle-class mouth from the pulpit.

I am still unsettled.

How would you have answered Jesus had he asked you this question in his “distressing disguise?”

Grace or un-grace?

Doing some reading for our Way of Life class tomorrow, and stumbled on Anne Lamott’s definition of grace:

“It is unearned love – the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.

It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.

Grace is the light or electricity or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

 So, here is the question:

Is your life at its core filled with grace or un-grace?

Drunk on grace ...

Grace, my friends … grace!

Robert Capon writes:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism

 … a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof GRACE –

 bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture,

 one sip of which could convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

 The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps –

 suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that

 the saved were home before they started.”

Oh, isn’t that good news, my friends?

Will you live in that truth today?

It is not up to you or to me … thank you, Jesus!

We huff and puff ...

Whenever I need to be reminded of the unconditional, unearned grace of God, I read Brennan Manning.

Today, this was his gift to me:

"My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this:

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.

It is the message of grace...

A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five.

A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party

no ifs, ands, or buts...

This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion.

It works without asking anything of us...

Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something it cannot cover.

Grace is enough...

Jesus is enough."

 From one "huffer and puffer" to all of you...

May you live this weekend fully drenched in the grac e of God!

What really separates ...

What really separates us from God?

Is it sin, or something else?

I  have been pondering this question lately.

Listen to this:

"Our misdeeds are not  the real root of the problem. They are just what the tradition called actual sins.

There is a much more serious problem, what the tradition called original sin.

It is much more subtle and inevitably hidden from us.

The relationship is broken by the presumption of our ethical behavior, our morality, our good deeds, our insistence on doing it ourselves.

The relation is broken because these too turn us quite simply against grace...

The Almighty God desires simply to be known as the giver of the gift of absolute grace.

To this we say "No."

We say, rather, that we intend to make it on our own, that grace is 'too cheap.' 

Then the relationship is destroyed just as surely as it was by our immorality."

(Gerhard Forde - A More Radical Gospel)

Have you ever pondered the thought that it is your own self-created "goodness" that keeps you from God?

The Good Book ...

So often, we are told to think of the Bible as some kind of instruction manual.

I believe that is a description that belittles the majesty of Scripture. It also belittles the difficulty most of us have when reading the Bible.

Don't get me wrong: there are commands in there.

But, an instruction manual?

Leviticus?

Daniel?

Revelation?

Frederick Buechner closes a sermon on the Good Book this way:

"Finally, I think it is possible to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot.

God creates the world, the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which he created it.

That means the Bible is a book about you and me, whom he also made and lost and continually seeks,

so you might say that what holds it together more than anything else is us.

You might add to that, of course, that of all the books that humanity has produced,

it is the one that more than any other - and in more sense than one - also holds us together."

Next time you open your Bible, remember the plot:

God creates the world, the world gets lost; God seeks the restore the world (all of it) to the glory for which he created it.

Sounds much more exciting, fascinating, complicated and compelling than reading an instruction manual. 

 

 

 

The Gospel liberates ...

Doing some great reading on GRACE for my Easter teaching... and stumbled upon this beautiful statement.

See if it doesn't lift your spirits today:

"The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we're not - though we try very hard to convince other people we are. But the gospel tells us, "Relax, it is finished"

Because of the gospel, we have nothing to prove or protect.

We can stop pretending.

The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we're something that we're not.

The gospel frees us from what one writer calls "the law of capability" - the law, he says, "that judges us wanting if we are not capable, if we cannot handle it all, if we are not competent to balance our diverse commitments without a slip."

The gospel grants us the strength to admit we're weak and needy and restless - knowing that Christ's finished work has proven to be all the strength and fulfillment and peace we could ever want, and more.

The gospel frees us from the urge to self-gain, to push ourselves forward for our own purposes and agenda and self-esteem.

When you understand that your significance and identity and purpose and direction are all anchored in Christ, you don't have to win - you're free to lose.

And nothing in this broken world can beat a person who isn't afraid to lose!

You'll be free to say crazy, risky, counterintuitive stuff like, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)! That's pure, unadulterated freedom.

Since Jesus is our strength, our weaknesses don't threaten our sense of worth and value.

Now we're free to admit our wrongs and weaknesses without feeling as if our flesh is being ripped off our bones."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

Now, take a deep breath... and live your day free and forgiven! It is finished. It is not up to you. Thank God!

One beggar ...

"Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." (DT Niles)

God is not a man ...

Heard this Gungor song on Spotify yesterday and thought I'd share it here...

Just enough in it to potentially offend many...

Which is what Jesus often did.

And, remember who he offended most?

Those in power.

Those in religious power.

Those who thought they were "in."

Those who thought they knew who were "out."

See what you think. It is a catchy little song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WybvhRu9KU

God is not a man
God is not a white man
God is not a man sitting on a cloud

God cannot be bought
God will not be boxed in
God will not be owned by religion

but God is Love, 
God is Love,
and He loves everyone
God is Love,
God is Love, 
and He loves everyone

God is not a man
God is not an old man
and God does not belong to Republicans

God is not a flag
not even American
and God does not depend on a government

but God is good, 
God is good,
and He loves everyone
God is good,
God is good, 
and He loves everyone...

athiests and charlatans,
and communists and lesbians,
and even ol' Pat Robertson
Oh God, He loves us all
Catholic or Protestant,
terrorist or president,
everybody, everybody loved, loved, loved, oh

God is Love
God is Love
and He loves everyone

stop the hating, please just stop the hating now

'cause God is Love


The antithesis of grace ...

"How did the word evangelical become the antithesis of grace?"

(Michael Gerson - George W. Bush's speechwriter)

If you seek God alone ...

 

 

If you seek God alone, then that which is from God in others will come alive, whether or not you can see it.

Jesus sees what is of God in others, even if it is still hidden as a tiny seed.

This is the gospel you must proclaim.

Preach it simply.

Jesus values each person; he sees their dignity as God created them.

He came to rid every person of shame and self-contempt, of the feeling that they are nothing and can do nothing, the feeling that they have ruined everything and nothing can change that, the feeling that all is hopeless.

(Christoph Frederick Blumhardt)

A church which is bruised ...

"I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has

been out on the streets,

rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined

and from clinging to its own security...

More than by fear of going astray,

my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up

within structures which give us a false sense of security,

within rules which make us harsh judges,

within habits which make us feel safe,

while at our door people are starving

and Jesus does not tire of saying to us,

'Give them something to eat.'"

(Pope Francis)

I stood at attention ...

I am so shocked and saddened by the death of 9 saints from a South Carolina church.

Such hatred.

Such sadness.

Such a waste of beautiful human life.

I listened to the relatives of these victims speak at the bond hearing for the young murderer.

And I stood at attention in my kitchen as I heard their agonized voices whisper words of forgiveness to this young man who was so filled with hate and ignorance... And who shot old ladies, and a state senator and pastor, at a simple Bible study.

After the relatives were done speaking, one reporter asked a commentator what his reaction was to these amazing comments, and he said:

"Their minister (who was one of the men killed) did an amazing job pastoring these folks. These people responded to hatred in the name and the power and in the way of Jesus, the great forgiver and reconciler."

I smiled, even in the midst of my tears.

So, so, so right.

I continued to stand in attention (and reverence) in my kitchen for quite some time... just pondering these responses in my heart.

Oh, that I would have this kind of response in the face of earth-shattering hatred.

Jesus, make me like them...

What if the church ...

Something to ponder this morning...

What if the church helped people become the kind of people who:

Loved one another?

Forgave one another?

Prayed for one another?

Bore one another's burdens?

Were devoted to one another?

Regarded one another as more important than oneself?

Did not speak against one another?

Did not judge one another?

Showed tolerance for one another?

Were kind to one another?

Spoke truth to one another?

Built up one another?

Comforted one another?

Cared for one another?

Urged one another on to love and good deeds?

 

What if that is all we did?

What then?

How different might the church look in today's world if we just focused on those things?

(Hat tip to Philip Yancey and his book, Vanishing Grace)