Does God Laugh at You?

Something I think is very revealing about individual believers is our choice of title for God. Some use Lord, Healer, Jehovah, and so on. One I have never felt comfortable with was Father.

When others would pray, “Father in Heaven,” or worse, “Abba Father” I would cringe. I just don’t get it. I’m certain it has to do with my family and my relationship with my earthly father, which isn’t bad, but definitely not one that would lend itself well to calling God the same name.

But when I became a father, especially when I had a son, things started to change for me. All the sudden I started recognizing connections between my actions as father and God as Father. I’d be holding my son as he cried after falling down, and I’d hug him and say, “Daddy’s got you” and I’d tear up and think to myself, “This is how God feels when I’m hurting.” When my sons – I have two now; there was a sale on KidBay – do well at something I feel immense pride in them. I realize that this is how God feels about our success. When I watch my sons play with each other my heart swells with love and I realize this is how God loves us – His “heart” swells with love!

And I realize, this is how God loves me.

We in the church talk a good game about God and love. But do we believe it?

Take for instance this quote I heard when I was listening to the radio yesterday:

When a man stands against God, God laughs!

I’m sure the preacher, Ron Moore of Journey Radio Ministry, meant well. He was talking about those who oppose God and how their power and ability to actually oppose God is laughable when comparing their power to God’s power. But he has it all wrong.

When a man stands against God, God weeps!

How do I know? I know the same way I know that if my son turned against me or started doing things I knew were bad for him I would weep for him. I certainly wouldn’t laugh:

“What son? You hate me and no longer want to have a relationship with me? Ha! I laugh at you!”

Church, we need to be mindful of when we put our sinful human characteristics on God and instead take His divine and perfect characteristics on ourselves. We laugh at our enemies. God loves them and tells us to love them.

God loves us. Our Father loves us.

I’ll keep trying until that name becomes comfortable.

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Knowing Who You Are

When the preacher gets done and invites people up to the front for prayer it is never a good thing for your daughter to look at you, smiling, and tell you that you should go get prayer.

That happened today. At Springhouse Worship & Arts Center, Barbie Loflin, one of the pastors, was preaching on being judgmental. The Holy Spirit My daughter convicted me – non-judgmentally, of course. Because I do judge. I do judge a lot and I know it.

What I didn’t know was why I judged, which is something that Barbie explained well. In her words:

I was asking God what I was going to teach on and I heard Him answer, “Who do you say I am?”

According to Pastor Barbie, we think judge because we think we are better than others but in reality we judge because we don’t know who Christ is and who we are in Christ.

If we judge we:

  • are insecure
  • are non-discerning
  • need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit
  • really are better than everyone else

I am all of of those. I do need a revelation of Christ and a revelation of who I am in Him. I need a dose of reality to strip away my perceived superiority.

It hit home when Pastor Barbie said that judging is actually counterfeit discernment. Being a know-it-all I want to be right, but when I judge I am actually being wrong, whether I’m technically right about the topic or not.

I want to be discerning. I want to see people as God’s sons and daughters. I need empathy. I need a soft heart.

And sometimes I just don’t have one anymore.

Keith Green expressed how I feel best:

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me

But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your Blood

So I went up and prayed. Because my daughter called me on it and because I knew I needed to change. All I could think of, all I could pray was, “I repent and I want a soft heart.”

Know what I mean?

Does Anyone Thank God for You?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that at funerals the deceased was only good things like loving, funny, generous, caring, always been there for everyone, and so on. Prior to their death, however, I wonder how many times they were told these things. And because I’m narcisistic, I wonder how many people think these things of me. Now, I mean, before I die.

Then I come across passages like Philemon 1:4-7, where Paul is thanking God for three fellow Christians and I wonder if anyone thanks God for me. Have you ever wondered that yourself?

Does anyone thank God for you?

Here’s the deal: I think you gotta have a lot going for you to have someone thank God for you. First, you got to have a friend who is actually a good enough Christian to actually think about praying for someone other than themselves (and the new car they want, and so on.) Next, you got to live a life where your friend just can’t stop themselves – they just have to thank God for you.

Assuming you have such a friend, have you considered whether or not you live a life where people actually want to thank God for you? I am tonight and I’m pretty sure I don’t like the answer.

I know my wife sometimes thanks God for me. Without me, who would teach her longsuffering and patience? I also get to count my kids as a “yes” too since I’m their boss and I can totally boss them to thank God for me. Friends and people I know, though? I’m much less sure.

Here is what Paul said,

I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints. I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ. For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

So to be worthy of thanking God for, according to Paul, you need to answer yes to the following questions:

  • Am I known for my love and faith for Jesus and love for all the saints?
  • Does my love for everyone cause joy and encouragement among the people I hang with?
  • Do my actions refresh the hearts of the saints like a ice cold Coke on a summer day?

For me? Not exactly. To be way too transparent for comfort, I’m probably best known for:

  • My love of sarcasm and poking fun at people I know.
  • My laissez-faire attitude toward authority.
  • My salty personality that drives young women to weeping and old men to gnashing of teeth.

Yeah, I can totally suck sometimes much of the time. But the thing is I really, really want to be someone who people thank God for. But clearly, I just don’t want to work for it.

So we have two choices: 1) I can try harder to actually follow Christ (like the name Christian implies), or 2) I can talk all of you in to pretending that I’m like Philemon, Apphia and Archippus and to thank God for me even though I don’t deserve it.

History tells me that I’m extremely unlikely to go with option 1 so that leaves option 2. What do you say?

Photo by Deviant Artist hfootball.

Romans 12: The Gallbladder of Christ

Most of the time when I hear Romans 12 being taught it is about the Body of Christ and how we all work together and have our roles, which is appropriate. But I find that there is a disconnect between hearing that we all have roles and seeing everyone actually take a role. Well, an active one anyway. I hear that we are to be hands and feet and then I see a church full of appendixes and gallbladders. I’m sure these parts are important I just don’t know what they do; if anything.

Just after Paul talks about how we are all the Body of Christ he then explains what he means by way of a list. It is important to note that this is not a checklist, but a way of living. Paul talks about prophets, servants, encouragers, teachers, leaders, givers and the merciful but he doesn’t imply that those are the categories of the Body and there is no reason to believe that this is a comprehensive list either. He is simply saying, “If you have a gift use it.”

Unfortunately, the church knows this all too well as finding our gifts and acting on them is less about actually finding the gifts God gives us than finding the things we like to do and doing what we already do but now with a stamp of approval.

The logic goes: I’ve decided that I have the gift of playing video games because it is what I like to do (so obviously God made me this way) so to act on my gift I will play with joy and that will be my role in the Body. I love my gift. It is totally what I like, by myself and for myself so why wouldn’t I love it?

Satire aside – this is a real issue the church deals with. Everyday activities that we already do have become our “gifts” and this is why the church is so much less effective than it could be.

Paul is clear that while there are more than just a few named gifts God expects every part of the Body to act in certain ways. The gifts are different starting points with a common end point.

Starting in verse 9 and continuing through the end of the chapter and beyond, Paul lists out some of the things that each member of the Body should do, no matter what we think our gift is:

  • Really love everyone.
  • Hate & despise what is evil and keep only the good stuff.
  • Love each other like family.
  • Treat each other like you want to be treated.
  • Work hard (with your whole heart) serving the Lord.
  • Be joyful.
  • Be patient.
  • Pray all the time, especially when trouble comes.
  • Bless those that don’t like you.
  • Be happy with those who are happy and empathize with those who are not.
  • Live in peace; don’t fight among each other.
  • Make friends with those that don’t have any or are undesirable.
  • Don’t think yourself better or smarter than anyone else.
  • Do not take revenge.
  • Do things that everyone knows are good.
  • Do your best to get a long with everyone.

Paul (and thus God) is very clear that these things and more are how we should live our lives. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the gift of mercy – you still need to pray for those who wrong you, being nice to them and avoid spite, anger and thoughts of revenge. If you have the gift of teaching you still need to give to the poor, befriend those who need friends, and work hard to not think you are smarter or better than anyone. The combinations are endless because there is no end – everyone with any gift needs to act in every way.

If we can tell what kind of tree something is by its fruit let me ask what kind of tree Christianity looks like. What kind of tree is your local church? What kind of tree are you?

It is time the church stopped being Frankentrees – mismatched good and bad (well mostly bad) fruit. I’m not trying to bring us down – I know we can do better than this. God tells us in Acts 1:8

When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power!

That power is enough to be Body of Christ as we are supposed to be – in God’s image; not our own. I encourage you to ask for it.

We can do better.

Another World

I was reading a book and came across a story that I have to share. I want to know if you believe this or if this is too far fetched. Your answer and mine will have far ranging repercussions. I will paraphrase:

A native missionary in India went with his family to preach the Gospel in a small secluded town. The town was under the dominion of several practitioners of witchcraft who held the townsfolk in fear and bondage. The evil priests were said to cause the deaths of townspeople or their animals and to cause crops to fail.

The priests came to the missionary in the town square where he was preaching and warned him that they would kill him and his family if he didn’t stop preaching. The missionary refused.

Days later, the priests went back to the missionary and asked about his power. They said, “We sent our spirits to kill you but they came back to us saying that you and your family were protected by fire. So we sent out more powerful spirits but they also came back to us saying that you were protected by fire and angels.”

The missionary shared that Christ protected him. The priests were convicted of their sins and turned to the Lord. (Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yahannan, p.21,22)

I had two thoughts about this:

  1. If these things don’t really happen then we are liars.
  2. If these kinds of things really happen then we are wasting our lives.

Romans 12: The Church of Equivocation

In Braveheart, William Wallace dies (stomach opened and all his insides pulled out while he is still alive – gruesome, right?) fighting for the freedom of his countrymen. At the run up to the big battle he says to his men:

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

Jack Dawson lets go and drowns in the freezing cold water of the Atlantic, instead of trying to share the raft, which may have tipped over, to save Rose in Titanic. Before letting go, Jack and Rose have this conversation where he makes it clear that his death should inspire Rose to fully live:

Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me… it brought me to you. And I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. Promise me you’ll survive. That you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.

At the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton goes to the gallows in the stead of Charles Darnay out of his love for Lucie and the hope that he has for her happiness. At the gallows, Carton says the most powerful line of any work of fiction of all time:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

And sadliest©, at the end of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, Spock dies of radiation poisoning for the rest of the crew and James T. Kirk, to whom he says:

You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.

Oh, someone get me some frakkin Kleenex!

Now those are sacrifices! Dying for your loved ones and your friends. These characters become heroes to us by showing us that there are things and people worth dying for. These ideals presented give us something to shoot for. I want to truly live, like William Wallace. I want to sacrifice myself for my love, like Jack Dawson and my friends like Spock. And I want to find redemption in my sacrifice like Sydney Carton.

The problem I have is that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to take up a weapon against my enemy, or choose myself or my love in an obvious do or die moment, or know with certainty of the peril of another of which I could intervene. I’m just not in life or death situations enough to act so nobly as these guys.

Paul begs us (yes, begs) in Romans 12:1 to sacrifice ourself for God:

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as living sacrifices to Him. Your offering must be only for God (holy/ set apart) and pleasing to Him, which is the spiritual (authentic/ true) way for you to worship.

Like all good Christians after reading this passage, I kiss my wife and children good-bye and look for somewhere to die for God. Unfortunately, I don’t find anywhere. No lions to eat me in a coliseum. No Romans to hang me on crucifixes. Since there just isn’t an easy way to force martyrdom on myself (well, in my religion,) it is obvious that Paul is not saying to die for God.

Of course you know that. Church people, or Churchtopians© as I call us, have heard time and again that we are supposed to live for God. We’ve heard it so much that we’ve tuned it out. Like “I really should eat less fast food or I will get fat and die of an obesity related disease” and “smoking is going to kill me so I should stop” we find ways to ignore the good advice with excuses and equivocations.

We say, I will worship God by going to church (Lord knows that is a sacrifice!) or I will worship God by giving some money I happen to have in my wallet. We sooth our aching conscience by remembering all the crap we threw away gave away to the Goodwill to help poor people, bless their hearts!

But we can’t be saved by acting on rules we make up (see Romans 11: Not Finding What You’re Looking For for more on this topic.) The Bible is not about us and we don’t get to make up the rules on what satisfies God in terms of worship. Paul says, in verse 2:

Do not be shaped by this world (age/ culture); instead be changed within by changing the way you think. Then you will be able to decide (or understand) what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to Him and what is perfect.

Step one in learning how to sacrifice yourself for God: recognize that the answer does not come from any other source than God Himself. It is not found in our culture. It is only found in the Bible. So read the frakkin Bible.

Once we change the way we think, that is switch from a worldly “we can figure this out on our own” independence to a Godly “only God knows how to live right” dependence we will finally understand how to sacrifice ourselves for God.

And I think – for those of us who achieve this sacrifice – upon entering Heaven will find that the angels and saints, along with God will have watched the movie of our life and Jesus will have said over and again to the Holy Spirit, “Oh, someone get me some frakkin Kleenex!”

Romans 11: The Enemy of God

Recently, I tweeted a comment made by my pastor during service that caused a commotion I’ve kinda come to expect from our culture. I tweeted:

“We have this idea that we are all God’s children. But that’s not right. We are all God’s creation. If we receive Him we become His children.”

The problem is that many people misunderstand God. In our culture of unequivocal acceptance and tolerance we wear (by choice) rose colored glasses when it comes to things outside our control to the end of taking the bite out of them. So God is no longer something to be feared but someone who loves and accepts us as we are. Jesus is no longer the incarnation of God who taught on Hell more than any other subject but a good teacher who told us to love each other. Christianity is no longer a way of life but an outdated set of ideals from a culture less civilized than ours that we can draw from if we find something worth drawing.

But that isn’t how the Bible describes God, Jesus or Christianity. God is the scariest being in the universe. Period. There is nothing that should scare us more than God. On a whim, He could decide to stop holding our molecules together and like Professor X in X-Men 3 we would fly apart into billions of tiny particles. Or He could decide that we never existed and POOF! we are gone, never existed and no one knows us (Rm 11:36). (Really, what evidence do we have that this hasn’t ever happened?)

In Romans 11, Paul says this when talking to non-Jews about being grafted to the tree of salvation (a metaphor):

So do not brag about those branches that were broken off. If you brag, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in to the tree.” That is true. But those branches were broken off because they did not believe and were unfaithful, and you continue to be a part of the tree only because you believe and stay faithful. Do not be proud but be afraid. If God did not spare the natural branches, then he will not spare you either. (Rm 11:18-21)

So God is a god who saves those who believe and are faithful. If you are not faithful, which means a follower of Christ, then you are not going to be saved and he will break your branch off the tree of salvation. You cannot be both saved and unfaithful at the same time. Paul continues:

So you see that God is kind and also very strict. He punishes those who stop following Him. But God is kind to you, if you continue following Him in His kindness. If you do not you will also be cut off the tree… The Jews refused to accept the Good News (Gospel), so they are God’s enemies. (Rm 11:22, 28)

  • Were we all created in God’s image? Yes.
  • Does He love us all? Yes.
  • Will He cut us off from salvation if we stop following Him? Yes.
  • If we stop following Him no matter how much he loves us will we become His enemy? Yes.

How do we follow Him? Not from our own ideas of what that means, for certain! Instead by doing what He asked us to do in the Bible whether it makes sense to us or not. God’s opinion overrides all others.

No one can explain the things God decides or understand His ways. (Rm 11:33b)

Romans 11: Not Finding What You’re Looking For

What scares me the most about the Bible is that it is written for believers and at the same time about believers… and most of the stories about the believers are not good ones.

In Romans 11, Paul says:

So this is what has happened: The people of Israel did not succeed in what they were seeking for but the ones God chose did succeed. The others were made stubborn and refused to listen to God. (Rm 11:7)

The first thing we have to do when looking at passages like this is put it in context. What Paul of Romans is referring to when discussing seeking is salvation. He just got done referencing Elijah (1 Kg 19:10,14) where God says that he will save a remnant of his people.

Then Paul talks about God saving that remnant by Grace not by their actions. So the seeking here – in context – is Israel seeking to be saved.

The key question becomes: who is Paul talking to and referring to now?

I’m tempted, and I think the church at large is as well, to read passages like this and think these stories and condemnations are about Israel, unbelieving Jews and Pharisees. But Paul is not talking to Israel or Pharisees but rather to believers (see Rm 1:6)!

This is the scary part: Paul is telling believers, people who think they are Christians, that some of them, possibly most of them, will not succeed in being saved.

Saying the Lord’s Prayer or asking Jesus into our heart is not a magical phrase that gets you into Heaven. In fact, many people who say those phrases end up in Hell (see Matt 25:31-46).

I think the churches fundamental misunderstanding of being chosen has lead many to an incorrect worldview that seeks attendees, converts, and baptisms and teaches doctrine full of to-do and to-don’t lists. These converts and attendees end up with the wrong idea that actions can lead to salvation. Instead it is the opposite.

Then I wonder if I have fallen for this same misunderstanding. That scares me.

Romans 10 – Death Bed Conversions

This is the message of faith that we proclaim: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, No one who believes on Him will be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
-Romans 10:9-13

When I read this I think of the argument against Christianity that I’ve heard often on the basis that Christianity doesn’t expect enough from those who have done great sins and then turned to faith to escape punishment, like a child who throws rocks then cries for forgiveness when his mother catches him to avoid a spanking.

I hear this complaint most times concerning death row confessions or death bed confessions. “Can a man live his life however he wanted and then right before he dies say a prayer to God and be saved?” I’m asked, like I’m sure you have been as well. Let’s clear this up: Yes and No.

Yes, a man who is on his death bed who genuinely comes to believe and accept Christ’s sacrifice and atonement for our sins will be saved. Consider the same chapter in Romans a little further on:

And Isaiah says boldly:

I was found by those who were not looking for Me;

I revealed Myself to those who were not asking for Me.

-Romans 10:20

So the man who lived his life however he wanted was clearly not looking for God but if he finds Him then it is God’s will, and that sinner’s salvation is complete even on his death bed because he has come to believe.

However, No, a sinner who sins on purpose through his life and says a token prayer near the end, or really at any time – which should make us pause in introspection, will not be saved. Paul says that the person who is saved confesses and believes. But if the prayer for salvation is about merely escaping Hell or making himself feel better about his impending doom, then the man, no matter what he says with his mouth is not an actual believer and is not saved.

Salvation is not a magic incantation.

But words backed up by a heart change and a genuine belief that Jesus died for us can and does save. Whether we’ve lived the life we should have or not, and no matter how long we’ve had to live that life.