Jesus Loves Me

This morning I saw a short video clip that really touched my heart. From the description, the video featured a very old woman in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, who was mostly non-verbal. At least, she had not spoken in some time. A man who looked to be in his 50’s or perhaps early 60’s–along with an off-camera woman–softly sang the old children’s bible school standard “Jesus Loves Me” to her, encouraging her to sing along. You see her mouth open and close, and hear her little wisp of a voice mouthing the words

“yes, Jesus loves me…

yes, Jesus loves me…”

It amazed me, to tell you the truth. I love that song, and I think it is, at its heart, the beautiful truth of scripture and the heart of Jesus toward those he created. In the case of this video—and likely many other situations–most of this woman’s memory is gone. She doesn’t speak. Yet within her is some kind of spiritual muscle memory, and she is able to sing the words as she nears the end of her long journey.

I have no proof in any way, but it’s my belief that it is with this truth Jesus will speak to each of us as we approach the finish line. It may be that we have forgotten most things, or that we’re suffering terribly. Yet there is something within each of us that will remember He who made us at our ends. I think that is where the idea of the “light at the end of the tunnel” comes from. I think that when one looks from dark to light, the light can seem far away at first, and then come closer and closer. I think we will see a light beyond our ability to comprehend as we fly from darkness to light. Surely, the experience will be specific to each person, but the commonality will be Jesus waiting for us, his face the ultimate light.

Jesus loves me this I know

I think of Luke, 16:22, which says

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.”

I think when the time comes we are all beggars. What else could we be? We can’t save ourselves. And we want the sense of assurance that comes from knowing we will one day be carried to Abraham’s side. I think it was the innate knowledge in the heart of every believer that reminds us of this and makes this hardest of transitions bearable. Or even possible.

I don’t know anything about the faith of the old woman in the video, but it occurs to me as I write this, at 0915 in Yakima, Washington, that if the last words I speak (or hopefully, sing) when my time comes are the powerful words of that song, then the knowledge that what is waiting for me just a whisper away will make me reach out for him who also reaches out for me.

There is a personal context to all of this, because as I write this, I’m also thinking of my wife’s paternal grandfather, who is struggling with alzheimer’s as he nears the end of his own journey. I am glad beyond measure that I was able to know him briefly before his struggle began in earnest. I remember his hearty and incredibly loud voice greeting me with words like “Whattaya say, Tom?” And then cracking my fingers in a powerful handshake.

I think of the terrible financial situation we were in when we got married, thanks to a lifetime of irresponsibility. I think of Jack helping us out, and getting us through the hard times with an unexpected gift, and then shrugging off the gift because it was what his wife would have wanted to do. I remember kneeling and thanking God in my father-in-law’s living room, and crying like a baby (with no shame in my game).

I haven’t seen Jack in a while, but I think of him all the time, and not just because of his generosity. I think that he raised his boys right, and they are both honorable men who love their families and God, each in his own way. I don’t know my wife’s uncle well, but her father is one of my heroes.

I hope that when the angels come to take Jack home, that he hears this beautiful song in his heart.

I heard Brennan Manning say once that when our time nears, Jesus calls out to each of us from the Song of Songs, as his father called to him when he was on the cross. I believe him. It sounds like something he’d do.

10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

I can’t wait to speak to Papa Jack again one day, when he’s all there, because I know he will have a lot to say. And I hope he’s there to welcome me, with a strong handshake and a “whattaya say, Tom.”

Angels

Yesterday, I had the youth lesson (we’ve been alternating doing the lessons monthly). This week we talked about things Jesus said about himself:

I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the Good Shepherd.

Along the way, the conversation meandered quite a bit (as it always seems to with youth), and we ended up talking about heaven, and what it would be like. What we would do, and see, and feel. The conversation got a little loose–as you might expect. It reminded me why I started grad school–to be better equipped for those sorts of conversations. We reminded them that what we believers have to go on regarding Heaven is what the Bible tells us about it.

I remembered a description of Heaven and getting there I read in a book by Randy Alcorn a while back. It was called “Dominion.” It was a pretty interesting read, and was on the surface a suspense novel about the unlikely friendship that developed between a journalist and a detective when the journalist’s sister and niece are murdered in a neighborhood rife with drugs and gang violence.

The novel also explored Heaven and how things might be there between a person’s death and the return of Jesus to Earth. It also posited that each person has a personal protector in the form of an angelic bodyguard (of sorts). This protection does not always take the form the person protected might desire, but the angels depicted always do battle on behalf of the person under their care.

The book got me thinking about heaven, and angels.

Also that we spend much of our lives learning about Jesus on earth, why should we not expect to learn even more from Jesus once we reach our final destination?

And what about angels? The Bible talks about legions. But do we really have them around us all the time?

Do they really protect us? Do battle for us?

There is scriptural evidence they do—(Daniel 3 and 6, lion’s den and fiery furnace, respectively).

Angels also strengthen and offer encouragement (they strengthened Jesus after his temptation: Matt 4:11. They encouraged imprisoned apostles: Acts 5: 19-20. They told Paul he and his shipmates would survive the coming shipwreck: Acts 27: 23-25).

Angels are often used as answers to prayer by God (Daniel 9:20-24, 10:10-12, and in Acts 12:1-17)

And, I think most importantly, Angels care for believers at the moment of their deaths (as with Lazarus in Luke 16:22). That’s probably one of the most meaningful truths I’ve learned in my few years of studying.

It gives me hope, and even some solace for things gone by. I wasn’t with my mother when she died, but I heard her offering up prayers not long before, when she could still speak. It’s comforting to think of angels carrying her into “Abraham’s bosom.”

Yes, I did have to look up the meaning of that last part, after I read Luke 16. Luke is talking about the custom of reclining on couches or cushions while at table, which was something Jews at the time often did. This brought the head of one person almost into the bosom of the person who sat or reclined above them. So to be “in Abraham’s bosom” meant to enjoy happiness and rest, as in Matt 8:11 and Luke 16:23, at the banquet in Paradise. Sounds pretty good to me.

I haven’t personally had much experience (or any experience, really) with angels save one time, and that was only indirectly, courtesy of a comment made by someone I did not know. Allow me to explain.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was part of a slightly charismatic prayer ministry at my old church in San Diego, and my main function (and main gifting, as it turned out), was intercession for the people being prayed for. I have no idea why this turned out to be so, because never in my life had I been any sort of warrior.

Yet that is what I did, and it came to pass that in the course of my involvement with that ministry, I interceded for many prayer sessions where the people being prayed for were dealing with sexual brokenness issues of one sort or another, and my presence there seemed to often comfort or calm these people so they were better able to receive ministry, and a word from the Lord.

Occasionally, there would be observers who would come to our church to see what the ministry was all about, and if it was something that could be facilitated and done effectively in their churches and other places. Following the prayer sessions (there would be a person “leading” and “co-leading” the session, and often one or sometimes two intercessors seated behind the person being prayed for and…sort of watching over the prayer session. That was mainly my function.

At the end of the prayer time, we would sit in a circle and “debrief” the various prayer sessions that had occurred (no details specific to the person prayed for would be shared, only what God had led the people involved in the session to know. Sometimes this would come in the form of a comment, or the relation of a picture they’d seen, or sometimes a song or verse of some kind would occur to them).

Over the few days since I’d finished the Alcorn book, something I’d heard at one of these debriefs following a prayer session occurred to me again, and made sense like it never had before.

There had been an observer that night—a young girl of about twenty—and she had sat in on one of the other groups’ sessions–not mine. At the debrief, everyone was offered the opportunity to share something, if they so desired. When it came to her turn, she asked if what she shared had to be something from the prayer session she’d been involved in.

No, she was told. It could be anything God showed you.

Even right now, she asked?

Even now.

She pointed directly at me, and said, that man…has wings.

Before you get your panties in a bunch, she was not saying (and I am not saying) I am any sort of angel. Clearly I am not. I think what she saw may have been my guardian—my protector and encourager, as in Daniel and Acts. Standing behind me.

It would certainly make my part as an intercessor make more sense. I’d never doubted God’s ability to equip any person for anything. It just didn’t seem like he’d want to equip me. I’d never been able to fight, or defend anyone, not even myself.

That man has wings.

Not my wings.

Anyway, yesterday made me think of that incident once again. Also came the thought it was good to think on things like Heaven. When I’m doing that, it’s harder to think about the earth, and all the shiny things that can steal my attention from the places it belongs.

I feel blessed and am very happy to be part of that ministry. I believe it’s where God wants me–for now, at least.

These kids (my 11 year-old son among them) make me think, and remember what it’s like to feel wonder, and to see the face of Jesus anew.

If you want to serve, really serve, and be both challenged and blessed–serve with the kids.

It’s worth it.

The Thirst: A Parable

Imagine you wake up one day and realize you’re in a desert—and you’ve been living there your entire life. The first thing you notice on waking is how incredibly thirsty you are. Your thirst is maddening, and there is nothing near to quench it. You have no water. You have no food. You have nothing. You look around, then, and you see there are people all around you, and they’re waking up, too.

Everyone looks confused, and no one has any water. Off ahead in the distance you see what looks like a collection of tents or tarps and you join the others in walking toward it because it seems like if people are gathered, there must be water.

You begin walking across the sand, and it’s hot on the bottoms of your feet, which are clad only in faded green flip-flops. The sand gets under your feet and between your toes, and it grates in more ways than one. You notice everyone wears the same foot gear, and has the same shuffling gait. The tents grow closer and you realize they’re really just pop-up tarps, each covering a space like a stall at a swap meet.

You walk down a wide aisle between the tarps and look around. There are dozens of stalls, each with a vendor standing behind a card table holding rows of cups or bowls. A few have boxes about the size of a honeydew melon. Most of the vendors have at least some length of line in front of their tables. Each vendor is hawking their particular product in a loud voice, extolling its virtues and trying to get you into their line. They tell you their product will give you what is lacking in your life—it will make you full, and quench your raging thirst.

You can’t see into the cups, but from what they’re yelling, most offer a drink of some sort, a few have food, and others appear to sell an experience or feeling. These vendors appear to have some of the shortest lines, so you queue up and wait your turn. There has to be water up there somewhere.

No one in line talks much, and those who do mutter almost unintelligibly. You get almost to the front of the line and you see the vendor has a pretty young woman standing behind him, and behind her is a tent. It isn’t difficult to figure out what his product is. The men in this particular line hand over their money and disappear into the tent with the young woman. You’re next, and while you forget about your thirst for a moment while you’re inside the tent, by the time you get back outside it’s back, and worse than ever. You head over to the next stall.

Someone must have water.

You wait in the line, and then you hand over your money. The vendor gives you a plastic goblet with a small amount of thick liquid clinging to the sides and bottom of the cup. You tilt your head back and the fluid slowly slides into your mouth and down your throat. The air around you becomes tinted with violet and then slowly adds other colors, and soon an entire rainbow floats across your view. It’s so beautiful you forget about how dry your mouth is and how you haven’t eaten anything in who knows how long. You begin to drift off and the next thing you know you’re laying on your back gazing up at the bright blue sky, and the thirst hits you like a mallet to the throat.

Was that it? You think. It seemed like only a few seconds.

You realize after a moment the rainbow isn’t coming back, so you get up and decide to try another table. After you dust yourself off and step into the next line, you notice a vendor at a table some way off from the others has no line at all (not to mention not shade covering his table)—and a large glass pitcher in front of him that appears to be completely empty. He has no glasses or cups—nothing to drink out of. He is yelling something, and looks very intent, but you can’t hear him.

“What’s all that about?” you ask the man in front of you.

“He yells,” the man says, “and that’s about it. Sometimes people will get in his line, and they hold that empty pitcher up like it’s full of cold water. They guzzle nothing. Then they wander off and you don’t usually see them again.”

“I guess I’ll skip it,” you say, and then ask what the vendor in this line offers. This line is the longest of all, and you figure there has to be water.

The man in front of you says he’s heard the vendor does have water, and then he falls silent. You do, too, because talking takes a lot of energy, and your throat feels like it’s full of sand. He gets to the front and hands over his money, and is handed a short glass with a tiny amount of water in the bottom. He tips it back and then asks if that’s it.

It is.

As you step up to the table, you see the man go to the rear of the line and begin waiting again. You hand over the money you have left and are handed your cup. The ounce or two of water merely wets the back of your throat, and after the small drink, you actually feel thirstier than before. You realize there will be no more water or anything else until you figure out how to get more money. You’re broke, and thirsty, and completely out of hope. You want to cry, but there is not even enough water for tears.

You can’t get anything else to drink so you decide to walk over the where the man with the empty pitcher is stationed. As you draw nearer, you hear his sales pitch delivered in a voice so full of emotion it’s almost like a scream.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

You draw closer still and you realize that you want to hear more, and you want to see the speaker’s face. You begin to walk toward him and it seems so far to the little table. Your feet drag through the hot sand and you wonder if you can make it. You’re so tired, so thirsty, and so hot. Then the vendor looks toward you and his eyes are piercing. You realize he’s looking directly at you and then he speaks again, and this time his voice is a plea.

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Rest sounds wonderful, you think. The man continues.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

You realize two things at once: you’re suddenly standing in front of the vendor, and your body must have found a hidden reservoir of moisture, because you’re weeping heavily and without shame.

“I’m so thirsty,” you cry. You look into the vendor’s face, and his eyes are kind and brown. He’s weeping, too.

“I don’t have any money,” you tell him. You see the pitcher on the table is not empty at all, but filled to near overflowing with water. Beads of condensation run down the sides from the cold. You want some desperately.

“You don’t need money,” he says. “The water I offer cannot be purchased, and does not run dry.”

Can that be?

You reach for the pitcher with trembling hands and you make contact with the cold glass. “Please,” you whisper. “Please help me.”

“Drink,” he says.

You raise the pitcher to your lips and drink directly from it. The water is the coldest and most refreshing you’ve ever tasted. You drink and drink and drink. The water spills onto your chin and your shirt and the tears roll down your cheeks as you drink. It fills your stomach, your chest, and it swirls within you. You feel…alive, and nothing else around you in the marketplace makes any sense at all. You understand that rest for your soul does not mean sitting on a couch with a cold one. It doesn’t mean never having to work again.

No. It means knowing who your father is, and accepting his rest. It means you know of the water that lives within a person, and you feel it flowing within you.

“Father,” you whisper. Thank you. Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Then you open your mouth and praise flows out of your mouth like the water flowed in—your words are all in a rush and cannot seem to get out fast enough. You praise the vendor, praise the water, praise the maker of the water. Thanks and praise and praise and thanks.

“What do I do now?” You ask.

The man points toward the far side of the market and says “Go. Tell them of the living water, available to everyone. Tell them what they thirst for can be found here. Tell them they’ll find rest for their souls, and what they’re meant to do. Bring them to me. Bring them all…”

You take a step, and your life begins.

Strength in Weakness

There are sections of scripture that are troubling to me. Not because I don’t understand what the writer is trying to convey, but because I do–and it goes against everything I’ve learned over the course of my life. Take 2 Corinthians 12, for instance.

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In verses 9-10, Paul talks about boasting in his weaknesses; even delighting in them. That was hard for me to understand, because I think it’s more natural to be ashamed of the ways we are weak. It’s hard for me to imagine feeling delight at my lifelong struggle against food addiction, the desire to binge drink, or my occasional struggles with lust (in the form of wanting to look at inappropriate things). Not that those are my only weaknesses: just what I struggle against most frequently.

Maybe what Paul is trying to say–according to my Life Application Study Bible–is that when we are strong in our abilities or resources, we are tempted to do God’s work on our own. That can lead to pride.

For me, that means if I was talking to someone about resisting the urge to empty a 12 pack or click on the wrong web site and saying that it was easy not to do it, or that I could resist because I was strong I would be full of what my son calls “peepoo.”

I am able (mostly) to resist these inclinations and others because God gives me that ability. Left to my own, I wouldn’t even try to resist. So if I accomplish something in spite of the things I struggle with, it means so much more. And only then am I strong.

It’s interesting how that works, because it shouldn’t. I guess God knows more of my strengths and affinities than I do. Where I see a weak pile of desire, addiction, and sin, God sees something else. And in spite of my own callow nature he is somehow able to use me, and my weaknesses.

That’s pretty amazing.

Casual Blasphemy

I figured something out today.

The President is not the anti-christ. He’s not the savior, either. He’s just a man. He gets up in the morning, and he goes to bed at night. By all accounts he loves his family in the same way you love yours. He eats, drinks, and goes to the bathroom.

He’s a man.

I think that’s part of the problem. The President is so beloved by the largely liberally slanted media and the Hollywood “lobby” that he’s been almost deified, in a sense. He was elected because his promises appealed to more people than the other guy. Twice. This is the way of elections. President Obama won fair and square both times. Move on.

When I saw this clip on YouTube:

of Jamie Foxx calling the President “our Lord and savior,” I wasn’t particularly offended as a believer because I recognized the statement for what it was: a clearly misspoken and probably taken out of context remark that was likely meant with at least some irony by mssr Foxx. At least I hope so. It’s difficult to imagine anyone actually believing President Obama is anyone’s savior. Yet I do think Foxx’s words, spoken casually, are symptomatic of a larger problem.

This morning I saw a representation of this painting online, called “The Truth.”

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The artist, Michael D’Antuono, has said his intent with the painting was to provoke political dialogue and that he meant to display the painting in a mock voting booth.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but to me this isn’t so much about the artist having the constitutional right to say whatever he wants: he has that right. I think he knew exactly the kind of reaction a painting of this nature would provoke in the “religious right,” and painted it with that in mind. He got the reaction he wanted, along with a large bowl of controversy. I’d imagine he probably sold a few tickets to art exhibits as well.

Back to my original point: President Obama is a man. He’s not the savior. He’d certainly acknowledge that himself. He’s not a hero, either. Most people aren’t. His election (both times) was certainly ground-breaking and showed how far our country has come.

Yet as I mentioned earlier, The President was elected based on what he said he would do. He was also elected based on who he was and what he represented.

The media and Hollywood has created this…cult of personality around him. We allowed that to happen. We encouraged it. We still do.

He’s a man, people. A smart and gifted one, but he can’t fly or lift cars over his head. He can’t save anyone, maybe not even the country. Salvation (and deliverance) lies elsewhere, and we as a people have to be careful of the burdens and expectations we place on our public servants.

Still, I look at the crown of thorns in D’Antuono’s painting and what I feel is not so much outrage as sorrow. He clearly does not understand what it represents. I wonder if he truly understands what his painting represents?

It’s not just oil and pigment. If there are actually people out there who believe the President to be something he is not (such as a savior), they are worshipping at an altar they want no real part of.

Just because the constitution gives people the right to say (and paint) stupid things does not mean they should. Casual blasphemy is still blasphemy, and whether or not you believe it does not matter. Think of the outrage if Muhammed had been mocked depicted instead of Jesus.

Then again, no one really thinks twice about offending Christians.

John 15:18 says, “remember if the world hates you that it hated me first.”

I read this commentary about the above verse, and I thought it was interesting:

If the world hates you – As the followers of Christ were to be exposed to the hatred of the world, it was no small consolation to them to know that that hatred would be only in proportion to their faith and holiness; and that, consequently, instead of being troubled at the prospect of persecution, they should rejoice, because that should always be a proof to them that they were in the very path in which Jesus himself had trod. Dr. Lardner thinks that πρωτον is a substantive, or at least an adjective used substantively, and this clause of the text should be translated thus: If the world hate you, know that it hated me, your Chief. It is no wonder that the world should hate you, when it hated me, your Lord and Master, whose lips were without guile, and whose conduct was irreproachable….

I think we need to expect mockery, and much worse. I think the world is changing, and quite obviously turning away from God.

It makes me sad, but also resolved. There is much work to do, and we as believers have much responsibility.

Politics and the rhetoric that comes with them really don’t matter in the end.

Jesus does, and what we do with Him.

Unpopular

It’s interesting how scripture can and will lead you on a journey, if you let it. This morning, for example. I sat down at the kitchen table to read, and my bible was still bookmarked in Acts from church this weekend. A reference to Deuteronomy 30:14 caught my eye:

No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

The word is in my heart.

I struggle to find time for it sometimes. There are so many more important things. Things like breakfast, and Facebook, and fooling around on the computer.

The word is in my heart so I may obey it.

This led me to Deuteronomy 30, so I could get the context of verse 14.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I look at verse 17 and 18 and it makes me so aware this is where so many are headed in today’s culture of self-absorption, self-gratification, and moral relativism.

We’ve become “tolerant” of so much as a people–as a country–that things have become permissible and even encouraged that would have landed people in chains not long ago.

It really gives me this sinking feeling when I think about it. Knowing what the world was made to be and could have been and then juxtaposing that with what it’s become is heartbreaking.

So many “religions” are coming to prominence these days that are turning heads and hearts from the only real deliverer.

The names and small g gods don’t really even matter because they are all the same, and lead to the same place.

Which isn’t heaven.

Heaven isn’t simply a state of mind, or a cornfield in Iowa. Nor is Hell.

These places are real, and the truth does not lie in Universalism, or Mormonism, or Hinduism, or any other ism. It’s great to make people feel better about themselves, but they also need to know the truth.

Wide is the path that leads to destruction, and lots of people walk it. More every day.

If you want to know the truth, and you want to avoid the destruction promised in Deuteronomy 30, you need only look to the red letters of John 14:6 (they’re red in my Life Application Study Bible, anyway):

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

It’s pretty simple, really. It might not be a popular view. It may not be thought of as “tolerant” of other religions. Some people might think it arrogant of Christians to think it, much less say it.

But it’s the truth.

Our job, believers, our only job, is to bring that truth to people and places that don’t know it. To government officials who don’t practice it, but pay lip service to curry favor and win elections, to people that hate us, and hate God.

We aren’t meant for destruction, and we need to put our petty denominational squabbles aside and do the work we were given.

I think of a song by the band Switchfoot;

we were meant to live for so much more, have we lost ourselves?

We need to stop trying to make the popular kids like us, and start telling them the truth.

We need to be unpopular. We need to diminish ourselves, that He may increase. So people that don’t know him will Choose life, and their families will live.

Oatmeal, Enemies, and Morning Catharsis

The bible clearly has a lot of instruction about how we’re supposed to treat people, and lead our lives in such a way we can represent Christ to those who don’t know him and have not heard the good news.

My problem is that I want those people to be nice. That often isn’t the case. There’s a great many red letters in my Life Application Study Bible detailing what we can expect to face from people when we share Christ with them.

Persecution, hatred, even death.

I don’t want to be persecuted. I want to be welcomed. I want to talk about God with people who already know how awesome He is. I don’t want to defend my faith, and I don’t want to turn any cheeks.

I want to hit people back. I want to go “Chuck Norris” on my enemies.

Scripture tells me I can’t. This morning I read Proverbs 25: 21-22 while I was eating my oatmeal, and I didn’t like it.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals in his head, and the Lord will reward you.

The first thing I thought about was why the heck should I do that for my enemy? And while I might not have any personal enemies, certainly it could be argued that as Christians there are a great many people who hate us for believing in something besides ourselves and trying to lead our lives so they demonstrate that.

Certainly today’s social and political climate in the United States is a vivid demonstration of how a great many people feel about Christians and what they stand for, or perhaps “stand against” would be more apt.

That’s neither here nor there.

To my mind, what it’s about is a human response to an affront vs a Godly response.

We are not God. We are people, and our human nature is to respond like to like. So if someone cuts me off (or flips me off) in traffic, I want to make sure I “get them back” in some way, even if that involves a raised finger of my own or a few shouted words.

If someone insults me, my family, or my faith, I want to respond in kind. I want to out-protest their protest. I want to make them look like idiots because they tried to make me look like one.

Jesus tells me I can’t do that. His Godly nature demonstrates how lacking in grace my human nature is.

It is solely through his presence–his inhabitation–that I can show any grace at all.

Because I have been shown grace, I can be graceful.

Because I have been shown mercy, I can be merciful.

Because I have been shown love, I can be loving.

The trick is, it’s more important I show these things to enemies than friends. My family and friends already know they are loved.

Enemies being enemies, they expect a certain response to their actions. Unfortunately, we often give them what they’ve come to expect from us. It’s in our nature.

With God’s nature, we suddenly have the ability to respond how they do not expect.

That changes everything. In my opinion, it is difficult to respond to love with hate.

Unfortunately, it’s also hard to respond to hate with love.

Yet as we progress through a season of changing political and religious tolerances, it seems clear that unless we change something, entropy isn’t just going to be a concept we learn about in high school.

We’re going to destroy ourselves.

It’s not too late to seek harmony instead of entropy.

It’s not too late to respond to hate and persecution with love.

It’s not too late too late to look at the person in the mirror and ask them if they truly know God and care about His will for their life.

It’s not too late to manifest that will for our lives in our lives.

So the next time you’re confronted with hate, or prejudice, or persecution, try and respond with love.

They won’t expect it, and you’ll heap burning coals on their head.

Mad Blood Stirring

It didn’t surprise me when Chik-fil-a executive Don Cathy remarked that the company he works for supports a biblical view of marriage. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone. It is common knowledge Chik-fil-a is a privately owned, Christian-ran company. They close on Sunday so their employees can attend church–if they choose.

I think that’s great. I worked in the fast food industry for some time, and would have appreciated the day off. That’s neither here nor there, though.

What did surprise me about what has now become known as the “Chik-fil-a controversy” is the shit storm Cathy’s remarks generated, though I suppose that shouldn’t have surprised me, either.

It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that Cathy did not seek a forum to air his views. He simply responded to a question, without any particular animosity or hatred toward homosexuals or anyone else.

Then the LGBT community and those who support them completely lost their minds and started screaming hatred and intolerance from every rooftop they could get a foothold on.

The man just answered a question.

Let me also say I agree with Mr Cathy and also believe in a traditional and biblical view of marriage. Call me whatever you’d like.

That said, after boycotts were threatened and many harsh words were spoken in the name of tolerance, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee waded into the fray by organizing what he called “Chik-fil-a Appreciation Day.” I was all for that. I thought then (and do now) that Cathy has every right in the world to his own opinions, and every right to express them in answer to a question.

Opinions aren’t against the law.

Opinions are in a sense protected by the law, as are those who voice them.

So a great many people turned out for Chik-fil-a Appreciation day, and drive throughs and dining rooms were all choked with customers, presumably most in agreement with Cathy regarding gay marriage. It was a huge success, and probably several large white feathers in Mike Huckabee’s cap.

I probably would have went myself if there was a Chik-fil-a in Yuma. Instead I took the boys to Carl’s Jr.

But anyway.

I was sitting at in the cafe area at church yesterday trying to pretend there were not donuts only a few short steps away when I started thinking about how Christians really did seem to be thought of negatively these days, and more conservatively held religious and political views often at the least mocked and/or ridiculed, and those who voice them branded as intolerant.

Nothing worse than being intolerant these days. To me, being tolerant of something either means to ignore it or support it. There are things that can be ignored, and other things that can’t.

To someone that professes Christ, we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a fallen world that in many cases holds no love for us. We are called to recognize sin when we see it, while we are also aware of the sin that lives in us at the same time. Christ’s propitiation on our behalves is the only thing that can save us both from it and it’s due penalty.

We are meant to call out the goodness in people by sharing with them the good news of Christ. Part of doing that is pointing out that there is a cost to living a Godly life, and part of that is turning away from sin. The bible is clear on what is sin and what is not.

Often (and probably in this case) people focus too deeply on this sin (homosexuality) they do not struggle with, to the extent they feel justified in overlooking a myriad of other sins.

Make no mistake, the bible is clear homosexuality is sin. It doesn’t matter how commonplace it is, or how much society at large has grown to accept it. We can be as progressive as we want in our faith, and we can call things whatever we want.

We can’t change the truth of scripture.

And while I was trying to avoid donuts yesterday, God pointed out a couple of truths to me; convicted me of them in fact.

No matter what Huckabee and the participants called it, the Day of Appreciation was a protest. The motive, in a sense, did not (and does not) matter.

That day was sort of a middle finger to those who try to silence the viewpoint of the average Christian through slander, and ridicule, even intolerance (because tolerance only extends as far as viewpoints that agree with the status quo).

God is very clear this is something we are not to do.

He tells us what we will face if we follow Him. He warns us about it.

“If the world hates you, it hated me first…(John 15:18-21)

See also Matthew 10: 16-20, Matthew 5:10-12

He consoles us with Romans 8:16-18, and 35-39.

Never, anywhere, does God tell us to flip the bird to sinners, and tell them they can’t put us down. He also tells us what we are to do in response to hatred and persecution:

“but I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you in the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matt 5:39

Or

“do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Lev 19:18.

I don’t really think you can get much more specific than that. And it’s important to note Chik-fil-a did not instigate any protest, and even went so far as to hand out free water to protestors.

But people still protested, on both sides of this particularly ugly coin. No one wants to feel marginalized, or to have their thoughts, beliefs and worldview mocked and ridiculed.

But Jesus told us it was coming. I think it has come.

I think worse is coming.

I know we have clear instructions as to what we should do.

We should pray for those who persecute us.

And as odious as it might be, as unjust as it might be, we must turn the other cheek, and not seek revenge or retribution.

The world is not friendly to righteousness. It never has been. Sometimes I feel the world has gone completely mad, and as Shakespeare pointed out, “The day is hot, the Capulets are abroad, and if we meet we shall not escape a brawl. For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” (Romeo & Juliet Act III, scene I)

Indeed it is. And we must prepare for it to get worse.

Controversy: It’s not just about chicken

Over the last couple years, there has arguably been no more contentious topic than that of homosexuals and marriage. There were propositions, proposed amendments to the constitutions, protests, boycotts, and much shouting from rooftops from both perceived “sides” of the situation.

Many of the people leaning a little more to the left side of things decry the views of those with a more conservative view of things as archaic and hopelessly out of date. A First century viewpoint on a 21st century issue.

What is typically thought of as the “Christian Right” has been particularly vilified in this regard by the mainstream media as being intolerant to a lifestyle that is now universally accepted by most people.

I wondered how true that was? What about other religions? If Christianity is the chief assailant on homosexual rights then other major religions probably support them, don’t they?

What does Islam say about homosexuality, and by extension gay marriage?

Do they support it?

Not so much. I wonder what would happen if an imam commented against gay marriage? Actually, Louis Farrakhan referred to President Obama’s public approval of gay marriage as “sanctioning what the scriptures forbid.”

Ok…what about Judaism? What does Jewish scripture have to say?

Obviously, the same thing the Christian bible does.

Where does that leave us? With the knowledge that many people of different faiths neither approve of homosexuality and hold it sinless, nor recognize homosexual “marriages” as legitimate unions.

Having said that, I know that at least most Christians that I know who do not recognize gay marriage also do not deny homosexuals in domestic partnerships should be granted the same legal rights as hetero couples who marry.

My point in all of this is not to condemn homosexuals or deny them any basic human rights. I am just pointing out that many people from many walks of life and religions share the beliefs of Christians regarding this extremely volatile issue.

No one is commenting on that. I haven’t seen anything in the clearly very biased media. What I have seen lately is an executive from a privately owned and privately governed, publicly and admittedly Christian principled company being asked a question and giving an answer that should have surprised no one.

Following that answer, this executive has been vilified to the nth degree. Boycotts have been threatened and licensing for new franchises has been threatened.

All by people screaming about tolerance at the top of their lungs, while at the same time practicing their own special brand of intolerance and prejudice.

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking “come, Jesus, come” more than once.
A friend pointed out 2 Timothy 3 to me not long ago regarding the Aurora shootings, but I think it applies here, too. I’d list it below, but I’m writing this on my iPhone.

Go look it up.

Done? Ok. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me how people react to biblical values, when they’re expressed plainly.

The bible is nothing if not clear about what God calls sinful, or lawful, for that matter. Call me whatever you like.

Lost and Found

Darrin’s scripture “workshop” group is starting up tomorrow, and for the first group meeting, he asked us to share a brief, memorized piece of scripture with the group (which will hopefully be comprised of several people who have taken part in various FCC creative arts projects over the past year or so). At some point, we may end up reading for the congregation, though I’m not sure if it will be the pieces from tomorrow night or not.

I’ve never been one of those people who talks all the time about this or that verse being their “life verse,” because for me, I think it would be difficult, and darn near impossible to try and summarize my feelings about and toward Jesus with just a single verse. Yet somehow, when I got the email from Darrin about the group, the very first verse that popped into my mind was from the Gospel of Luke, verses 17 through 20. The parable of the prodigal.

Since I have been a believer, that brief story has been one that I have come back to again and again, and it hits me right in the bread basket each time I read it. I think that’s because I have spent so much time wasting my inheritance, and also because I am continually amazed at what God did for me when—like the son—I returned to Him, acknowledging my unworthiness.

I find myself thinking of that story in regard to my boys all the time. Whether or not they acknowledge it or I acknowledge it, they will be looking to me to see how things are done, and how to treat people. They will wonder how to respond to God in times of adversity, and hardship, and blessings. If I am the leader of our family I hope to be, then these are all things David and John will be looking to me for answers about.

And one of the more complex things I’ve been thinking about, and wondering how on earth to explain it to them, is what to do when we mess up. When we turn away from God, willfully. When we know what we should do, and do the exact opposite. It could be for lots of reasons. Maybe we feel we’re entitled to something because life has been a bitch, and we deserve _______. Or who knows why?

But we fall, and we sin, and one day we wonder what to do about it. We wonder if we can go back. We wonder if God will still listen to our entreaties.

I need to show my kids that we’re never so far from God that we can’t turn back toward Him. I need them to know that His love for us is so much greater than our mistakes. And silly as it sounds, I need them to know that I am not some perfect ideal of belief, of faith. I need them to know I’ve fallen, too. That I’ve been light years from God, and that even as far as I’ve been, when I turned back to Him, God was waiting for me.

Which leads me to Luke 15: 17-20

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
”But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”

There are a few books in the bible I’ve read more than once. More that I’ve read several times—and many, unfortunately, that I haven’t read at all. But I keep coming back to Luke; especially, the parables found in Luke 15. I must have read Luke more than a dozen times in the past year. Particularly, the parable of the lost son.

Today, I remembered that I posted about it last year, and it occurred to me to go back and raid my own post. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been feeling like the lost son again of late—the lost son ready to return to my Father.

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been wasting away my inheritance. Wasting it with my feeble prayer life and even feebler discipleship. Wasting it with my poor example to David and John about what it takes to me a man. Wasting it by not being the strong leader my family needs me to be.

And now, I’m ready to come back to my Father. So again, I turned to my old friend Luke. But maybe it isn’t just me. Who among those who believe has not done the same? Who hasn’t been the lost son? Who hasn’t taken generosity and love for granted? I think of all the times I’ve responded to God in a like manner. Maybe that’s the point, though. At least for me.

Personal conviction. And awareness that I need to repent anew.

Something always strikes me about that parable. Not so much the son’s apparent repentance–to me that smacked of forced contrition, not true remorse. It’s kind of hard to tell from the brief passage that mentions it. Of course, that could just be the cynic that still lives somewhere deep inside me. Just look at the son, though. He’s broke, and hungry, and has nowhere else to go. He’s just relating what he’s going to do, not baring his heart, or even seeking forgiveness. He came to his senses, it says, but that’s all. The son could have just been talking about finding a meal at that point.

He’d wasted away his inheritance. There was a famine. Why not return to the source of the inheritance, where the servants fared better than he was at the time?

Certainly, all those things are important. Yet what impacted me most was the father.

His grace toward the son.

The passage mentions that he sees his son when he was still a long way off, so he had to be outside looking for him. Scanning the horizon. Desperate to see his son return. I can see him standing there, shading his eyes with a hand.

Looking.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Not seeing.

Yet every day, looking.

It does not say how long he looked for his son. Only that:

”But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”

It kind of makes you think about the shepherd looking for his ONE lost sheep, rather than writing it off because he still has 99. He will pursue the lost one, and he will be filled with Joy when he makes it back home with that one sheep across his shoulders.

That’s the same Joy God feels when we return to the fold.

How he felt when, like the prodigal, I came to my senses. When I stood, looking across the Colorado river with tears running down my face and holes in the knees of my jeans. Was it forced contrition with me? Perhaps in a sense it was. But God did not care how I came back to him—just that I returned.

He felt joy. And scripture also tells us that angels rejoice.

But look again at the father’s reaction upon seeing his son.

“his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”

He did not stand waiting with his arms crossed, brow furrowed with displeasure. He did not grudgingly accept a tentative and awkward apology.

He was filled with compassion for his son, and he ran to him.

He ran.

He ran, probably forgoing all semblance of dignity.

He ran, robes flying, probably with arms extended. Running across the field to his lost son.

He ran, and he was filled with compassion.

He ran, and when he got to him at last, he threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

No condemnation, no judgement.

Just love.

He threw him a party, and killed the fatted calf.

This morning, I read that passage again and I thought about Jesus scanning the horizon for me, desperate to see me. I thought of him running toward me with his arms outstretched, running across a field to get to me. He’d been waiting for me all the time I’d been holding out, waiting for me to come to him. Waiting for me to come burdened, and afraid, and encumbered by the world.

He waited for me, even though I was not ready. Me, in my dirty robes.
He waited for me with his shepherd’s arms outstretched. He waited for me, in my unclean and starving state—impure in both thought and action.

Me, covered in the filth of my journey home.

Me.

And when he saw me, he could wait no longer.

He ran. And when he finally reached me, he threw his arms around me
and kissed me.

And there was rejoicing in heaven.