All posts by Justin

Like to share things that help people.

It’s Real and It Hurts: The Pain and the Glory

The world just ain’t like it should be.  Now I’m not a complainer.  Wasn’t raised that way.  But, if God is good and He is powerful, why are things the way they are?  Why did an eleven year old boy have to die this past week in a car wreck?  When did countless people lose their homes after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas?  Why is their still racial unrest in the United States?  Why? Why? Why?

If God is all powerful and all good, why hasn’t he done something about all of this?  Why do the good suffer and the evil seem to prosper?  Why do children in Nueva Vida in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, suffer so much that they literally dig through trash to survive?  Why are there beautiful families living on $30 a month in rural areas all around Managua, Nicaragua?

The Gospel of Christ doesn’t ask us to ignore these questions.  In fact, you may never really get to the gospel if you don’t face this reality:  The world ain’t like it should be.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is couched in this very reality.  It’s Romans 1 where Paul says that he’s not ashamed of the Gospel because it’s the power of God for salvation.  Then, in the next verse (17), he says that in it the righteousness of God is reveal from faithfulness to faithfulness, and then he quotes the prophet Habakkuk, “The righteous one will live by faithfulness.”

Now, you might just skim over that, but if you do, you might miss something very powerful about the gospel.

It turns out the you can’t really hear the good news until you’ve faced the bad news that the world is messed up.

In Habakkuk, the prophet asks God why he hasn’t done something about the messed up situation Israel is in.  God replies that he is doing something about it, in fact, something that the prophet doesn’t understand.  And, in the middle of all that, there is the scripture that Paul references, “The righteous one will live by faithfulness,” Habakkuk 2:4.

Here’s the way I read all of that.

Yes, the world is messed up.

Yes, God is doing something about it.

Just like in Habakkuk’s days, people may not understand it.  The good news is that the secret of God’s work to fix the world has been revealed.  The good news is that God is fixing everything that is broken.

Don’t deny the brokenness.

Only when you realize the darkness can you appreciate the light.

The light is this:  God is doing something in the world to put it back together again.  He’s making everything right.  And, we get to be a part of it.

God is faithful to his creation.  He’s faithful to redeem this world.  And, he is faithful to his promise to love you.  It may not seem like it right now, for all you may be going through, but God loves you.  And, he’s turning this situation around.

And, you know what?  He will succeed.  But, you know the beautiful part of it is?  We get to be his co-laborers.  We get to be involved in fixing this world.

His faithfulness leads to ours.

His grace leads to our love.

His resurrection leads to our new life.

And, we get to change the world together.

No hurricane can stop us.  No unfaithfulness can deter us.   Because we’re not at the helm.  The creator is.  And, that’s good news.

Change the World

I have a confession.  I’m not ashamed of the gospel.

Now, I might not even mean what you think I mean.

I believe the gospel is world changing.  And, again, I might not mean what you think I mean.

But, there it is.

A couple of weeks ago I went on a mission trip to Nicaragua.  We helped put on special events (we call them Vacation Bible School or VBS).  The kicker was we offered lunch for the kids there.  Turns out if we hadn’t restricted the event, then every kid in the neighborhood would have showed up.  Why?   Lunch.

A friend of mine asked if we were going to proselytize or what.  I think what she was asking was whether we were going to peddle religion or were we going to really help people.

I’ve thought about that.  You know religion can be nothing more than a way to say I’m better than you are.  I have “special knowledge” that puts me into a special relationship with the divine.  I’ve got the right superstition…and I’ve got to show you just the right ritual so you can be as blessed as me.

Now, that’s the way some people see a lot of what missionaries do.  They’re just peddling their set of rituals.

And, sometimes that may just be true.

But, I want to say that that’s not at all what the gospel is about.  It’s about changing the world.  It’s the power of the creator of the Universe.  It’s God fixing the world.  It’s the only good thing we really have to share.  It’s the reality of the creative and redemptive work of God in the world.

Paul said, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, for it’s the power of God unto salvation.”

I’m going to explore what he meant there in the next few posts, and I hope you’ll come with me.  You might just be surprised at what you see.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

A poor farmer followed Jesus.  He went out into the wilderness with him.  He expected a miracle.  He expected a revolution.  He heard that Jesus was the long expected king.  The Messiah.

Time had been rough for the farmer.  In fact, times had been rough for all Israel.  The farmer, like all of his friends resented the dreaded Romans.  They had the nerve to claim rule over the Holy Land!  They had the audacity to overtax God’s holy people.  The farmer knew that there would arise a promised one who would drive the dreaded Romans out.  And, now…he’s here.  This Jesus.  He’s going to do it.

So, the farmer walked away from his daily work to follow this man.  He became a disciple.  He was going to learn from him.  And, now the teacher has sat down to teach and to explain his kingdom.  His reign.  The reign of God.

And, the first words out of his mouth hit the farmer like a ton of bricks.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You see, the farmer had come to hear about God’s reign.  About the reign of the heavens.  About this man Jesus’ inauguration of that reign.    And, the first words out of the King’s mouth are a blessing that hit the farmer right in his heart.

You see, the farmer, like all of his friends was poor.  They had been working subsistence jobs all their lives.  They had been waiting patiently for God’s Messiah,  And, his first words are…the kingdom is yours.  It belongs to you poor, humble, contrite people who have been beaten down and trodden down and worked to the ground.

It belongs to you humble followers.  It’s yours.

And, so it begins.  The farmer hangs on every word.  It was what his heart longed for.

What is The Bible All About and Why Are You a Christian?

What  do you say to someone who isn’t really familiar with the Bible?  How do you communicate what is in your heart and soul about following Jesus?  How do you talk about this without sounding stuck up, condescending, or just dumb?  Well, I’m not sure I’m going to avoid any of those, but I’m going to give it a shot.  Here goes.

What Does Being a Christian Mean to Me?

What is the Bible All About?

There’s this story about this kid.  He escaped from a WWII work camp in Eastern Europe, and just wanted to find his mom.  So, he made this incredible journey across Europe.  Such bravery.  Such spirit.  And, he found her.  But, you know that’s not our story.

Here’s another story.  This girl gets held captive by terrorists.  Goes on for years.   And, she’s awaiting her death sentence.  Turns out all this time her father has been searching for her, and one day her rich brother shows up.  He’s going to pay the ransom, and the ransom is his life.  He’ll take his sister’s place.   So, the girl is rescued.

That’s more our story.  The world is messed up.   Cancer.  Corruption.  Death.  It’s there.  Our story is that God came into this messed up world.  He came for us.

Jesus died and arose to rescue the world.  To set it right. To beat death.  And, he did.  He arose.

So, we’re blessed, even if we suffer, even if we cry sometimes, because we know that his reign is coming.  It’s a reign of love and truth.  And, so we shine.  We do all we can to show the truth of the world, this powerful love.

And, we do crazy things like loving our enemies.  We do unheard of things like being pure in heart and mind.  Why?  Because there’s this truth that we’re living out.   It’s the reign of the real King of the world.

So, we don’t do our religion just for show.  Yeah, we go to worship, but it’s not to be in the social club.  Yeah, we pray, but it’s not for political brownie points.  It’s because we know this is real, and it’s world changing.   And, we don’t get caught up in materialism, because we know there’s a greater purpose for our lives.  And, we don’t worry, because we know how it all ends and who is in control.

And, we’re not hard on people because we know they are fellow travelers too who are on this journey to truth and love.

We may not be perfect, but we are affected by this powerful love.

So, that’s what I’d try to say to my friends, and that’s the way I try to live.  I don’t do the best job of it from time to time, but that’s why I’m thankful for the grace of God.  Because like we said at the beginning, we don’t earn our way to God.  He paid the ultimate price for us.  He came searching for us.   And, maybe right now, he’s searching for you.

Do You Choose to Follow Jesus?

I love the idea of Jesus dying for me, but I don’t want to suffer and die on a cross.  The pain.  The suffering.  The shame.  I mean he died a public death in front the whole world.  He was executed!  And, that’s about the last thing on the world I’d want to endure.

So, I have a dream.  And, in my dream I die of cardiac arrest, and I go to heaven.  God speaks to me and tells me that I can go back to earth on a special mission.  I’ll be his man.  I’ll be a preacher.   Many will turn to him and be saved!   I’m ready to say, “Here I am, send me”…then, I hear these words.  “If you go back, you will be rejected.  Your friends will turn on you.  You will be preaching in the Middle East.  In the end, they will crucify you and behead you.”  And, in my dream, I pause.  I’m not sure what to say, and then I wake up.

What was my choice going to be?

The Jesus gospel sounds so great until you’re put in the place of giving your all.

I want you to hear what Jesus said (Matthew 13:44-46):

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,  who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Imagine you find a tract of land in Baldwin County, Alabama, that has oil reserves to rival those of Saudi Arabia.  Billion of barrels beneath those mossy oaks.  So, you beg and you borrow.  You have nothing left but the Thrift Store clothes on your back, but you scrape up enough to do it.  You buy that field.    It was the only choice.  It cost you everything.  It cost you nothing.

And, that’s the way it is with following Jesus.  The stakes are high.  The reward is great.  It will cost you everything, and it will cost you nothing.

So, what’s your choice going to be?

What If I Don’t Like Church?

I know people who believe in Jesus but aren’t plugged in to a local church.  They’re just not into it.

They like Jesus, but not church.

I love the church, and it bothers me that people would like Christ…but not the body of Christ.  Don’t the two go together?

Well, what if that’s the problem.  What if the church has become something other than what God intended it to be?  What if it has morphed into a something very different than how it started out.

Well, what if they could go back and see it in its infancy?  What if they could see it as it started out, and see what God intended for it to be?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could show them that?

Well, it turns out you can.

Scripture

Luke was a doctor who wrote…wait for it…the Gospel of…Luke.  But, he also wrote a book we know as the Acts of the Apostles, or Acts for short.  It turns out these are really one big book.  Acts picks up where Luke stops.  Luke is about the life of Jesus.  Acts is about the  early church.  When you read these two books together, a pattern emerges:

What Jesus does, the early church does.

Jesus fed the poor.  The early church fed the poor.

Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God.  The early church proclaimed the kingdom.

And, on and on we could go.

The early church mirrored the life of Jesus.  His life formed their life, personally and communally.

So much so, that outsiders even called them by his name…they called them “Christ followers” or “Christians.”

So, here’s the challenge:

Go back and read the Acts of the Apostles (right after you’ve finished with Luke).  And, then ask yourself…what was this group called “The Way” all about?

Did they carry out Jesus’ mission of love and compassion?

Did they embody his message of resurrection and new life?

Did they bring about a revolutionary change in the world?

The Way

So, if you’re reading this and you’re one of those people that isn’t plugged in to a local church, then I’m not here to judge you, but I want to ask you this.  What if you could be a part of revolutionary group like you read about in Acts?  What if you could find a group like that?

Well, then I challenge you to look for that group in your community.  Look for a group that looks like Jesus.

And, if there’s not one…why don’t you form one?

Well, now if you’re reading this and you are a part of a church, then let me challenge you.  Is your church a lot like what you read about in Acts?  Is it a lot like what you read about in Luke?  If not, then I challenge you to look back to the reason we’re doing all of this.  Look back to Jesus, and focus on him.  And, see just how much like him we can become.  Because, guess what…he’s what it’s all about.

What If I Don’t Like God?

I’m convinced people haven’t stopped believing in God.  They’ve stopped liking him.  And, in some ways, I get where they’re coming from.  They’ve been sold this bill of goods that life is going to be just the way they want it.  That if they believe in God and pray, then he’ll give them a 4 bedroom house, the best spouse in town, and a white picket fence.

So, according to this messed up theology…if you’re following in faith…and God hasn’t blessed you…then you just wait a little longer…and then….you’ll be rich.

Well, what if you don’t ever get rich?

What if instead, you get cancer?

What if your wife leaves you and your dog dies?

I mean, seriously, what do you do then?

Well, some people decide…I just don’t like God that much anymore.

So, what do you do with that person?

I mean, a thorough schooling in the Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn’t really help a lot.  A comprehensive treatise on the atonement doesn’t really cut it.

So, what do you give them?

You give them Jesus.  You show them Jesus in your life.  You point them to the Messiah.  And, he’s not an argument.  He’s not an academic subject.  He’s real.  He’s faithful.

And, you know what?  He could call fishermen.  They liked him.  He could call tax collectors.  They liked him.  He could call drunkards and prostitutes.  They liked him.  And, little children…they really liked him.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re struggling with this whole business of do I even like God…then take a look at Jesus.  Get out the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and read them over and over.  If you’re not that impressed with church folks, maybe you shouldn’t be.  But, give Jesus a chance.  I think you’ll like him.

And, if you’re reading this, and you’re a Christian that’s struggling to help a friend or family member that is wrestling with God, then I challenge you to point them to Jesus.  He’s where it’s at.

And, you might not even know you’re struggling with this…but if you don’t get emotional at communion, if you don’t get excited about worship, and if you don’t long to steal away in prayer…then you know what…you might not really like God as much as you’d like to think.

So, I challenge you, too.  Open up the gospels.  Take a fresh look at Jesus.  You might just like him.

Crazy

I could be crazy…possibly.

You think about it.  Millions of people every Sunday gather to talk to someone you can’t see.  They talk about how good he is.  They sing songs to him. They encourage one another to serve him.

I’m reminded of the Cee Lo Green song….I might be crazy…possibly.

Maybe I am crazy for doing it.

But, if I’m crazy for worshipping, I’m also crazy for having the hope I have.  I’m crazy for having the purpose I have, and I’m crazy for having the love and joy I have.  Yep, I guess I’m crazy.

Have you ever seen anyone who was in love?  Crazy.

Have you ever seen anyone who made heroic sacrifice for love of country?  Crazy.

Have you ever known someone who risked their life to save another?  Crazy.

Well, I happen to know someone who did that.  He’s the maker and sustainer, but he was also suspended on an instrument of execution.  He is the King of Kings, but he once was the spectacle of all.  But, I believe something.  Not only did he die, but he also arose.

And, you know what the most sane response to that is?

In light of the resurrection, do you know what makes sense?

Worship.

It’s our world view.

This One Thing I Do

Tonight Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in the last presidential debate before the November election.  I could post a million reasons why you should vote for one candidate over the other.  I could write about why you shouldn’t vote for either one.

But, I won’t.

I want to give you a challenge.  I want to see just how good you are at paying attention.

So, the challenge is – “Count how many times players wearing white pass the ball.”

After watching this video, did you see the gorilla?  You see, about half the people get so busy watching the basketball, so focused on the moving target…that they miss the gorilla that walks right through the frame.  And, if you’re looking for the gorilla, you miss other things…like the changing of the color of the curtain, or that a player exits the game.

If you really focus on something…you might just miss other things.

So, we are as a nation quite focused on the national election.   I have to ask myself, did I miss something?    Did we miss something?

There’s a passage that comes to mind.  It’s literally a heaven or a hell passage:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

When I read these words from Matthew 25, I have to wonder, am I seeing Jesus in my everyday life?  Or, am I so focused on things like a national election that I’ve missed the most important.

Have I seen Jesus in the eyes of a needy child?

Have I recognized Jesus in the voice of my coworker who needs encouragement?

Have I truly embraced the presence of the living God in the outcries of the man who showed up at church simply looking for a job?

I challenge you to open your eyes.  See the invisible people.  See the invisible God.  He’s right here all along.

And, when you do, you can know that the most exciting thing that’s happening is that God’s reign is breaking out in this world.  His will is being done.  His kingdom is being born into this world.

And, while there may be a debate on tonight…it doesn’t represent the most important choice in our world.  The choice you must make is to open your eyes to the divine presence that’s breaking forth.

Will you be a part of that kingdom, of that life?

Profile image by Krassotkin (derivative), Gage Skidmore (Donald Trump), Gage Skidmore (Hillary Clinton) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I Am David

Like Leonard Cohen, I’ve been pretty curious about that secret chord that David played that pleased the Lord.  I wanted to know what it was that was so special about David.  What was it that made him a man after God’s own heart.

How could I be like David? How could I be…special?

David was special, right?  Killed a giant.  Wrote the Psalms.  War hero.  Legendary king.

He was a hero, but he was also a zero.  Think about it.  In one turn of events, he broke eight of the ten commandments.  Adultery.  Murder.  Pretty low if you ask me.

But, then I hear the words of the Psalms.  I heard a heart that is longing for God.  I heart a heart that is alive and on fire.  And, I know.  David is me.  David is you.

You see, David is the anointed.  He’s the chosen one.  In the New Testament, we read of how we can all be sons of God.  We can be like Jesus.  We can have a heart like his.   We can be anointed.

Read Romans 8.

How do we live the Christian life?  By the Spirit.  We have an anointing from God.  We are the chosen people.  We are the blessed people.  We are David.   I am David.   You are David.  You’re his seed.  You’re his promise.  Why?  Because you are the body of Christ.

So, what does that mean?  What are we to do?

Live with your heart on fire for God, alive in the Spirit, and always living in the reality that God is alive and he’s all we need.

That’s what David did.  He found God in the tough times and in the sad times and in the plentiful times and in the good times.  He found him on the mountain and he found him in the valley.

So, we can know that God is with us, and we can say with David, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.”  His rod and his staff guide us.  He prepares us a table in the presence of our enemies.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Amen.