Saved and Being Saved

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It educates us so that we can live sensible, ethical, and godly lives right now by rejecting ungodly lives and the desires of this world.” — Titus 2:11-12

Salvation is a tricky concept. Some people are never able to accept that they need to be saved, never mind the differences in opinion on what exactly that means. Is it just going to heaven? Is it a state of superiority to others? Is it instantaneous and everlasting? How can I still mess up if I am saved? I’m not saying this post has the answers to all those questions… but I hope it will at least help!

Having been a Methodist for much of my life, the word “grace” gets thrown around a lot. Specifically, there is a belief in three manifestations of grace. Grace means the unmerited, even undeserved love and favor of God that is given just because, and the first manifestation of grace is called Prevenient Grace. This is when the grace of God continually surrounds us, reaches out to us, and calls us to Christ. There is Justifying Grace, which is the forgiveness of our sin and the moment we enter into relationship with God through Jesus, becoming apart of the Church Universal (the spiritual church, not necessarily any particular institutional church, though this is the recommended route). This is the first moment of salvation, which, quoting Jesus in the Gospel of John, we believe is “eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent” (17:3).

The final manifestation of grace that we enter into after our initial entrance into relationship with God. This is called Sanctifying Grace, and it is what the text from Titus at the beginning of this post is getting at (in my opinion). Sanctifying Grace is the phase of grace we remain in until our dying day. It is the love of God that helps us become more and more like Jesus in how we act, speak, and think. It helps us achieve more and more “oneness” with God. We are, of course, human and can never be God, but we are expected to strive for a relationship in which God’s love and life are visible through us. This is the completion of salvation, and it is a lifelong pursuit.

I often like to say that I am saved and I am being saved, all at the same time. Look at the text for today. God has offered salvation to all people, and this salvation “educates us so that we can live sensible, ethical, and godly lives.” Education implies learning, improvement. Think about this. Many times, salvation is treated like a once in a lifetime moment where this instantaneous change is supposed to happen… but what if that isn’t how it is working for you? It’s not how it has worked for me.

Have you ever felt like you were doing or believing something wrong because you still have flaws even after “giving it to God?” Has this ever left you feeling ashamed or less than? Due to your struggles, have you ever felt that you must somehow be beyond saving? I have. This is why the text we are looking at is so important. Part of salvation is education, and learning how to change our ways for the better. This is a process, not a singular moment. It means we have to be willing to keep trying, even when we fail, and have the grace to forgive ourselves so that we continue in our walk with Christ.

Now is salvation only about our current reality? No! “At the same time we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and savior Jesus Christ” (2:13). There will be a time when all the afflictions that draw us into sin will be no more, and everything will be made right and brought back into balance, and, yes, we will experience the fullness of heaven. However, salvation is not just about having your ticket punched, even if this is comforting to think about. It is also not solely about just becoming a better person. It is about becoming more like Christ by sharing the grace we have received, and, when times get difficult, remaining fueled by hope for the day when we will finally know peace. 

As you consider your own life, your many flaws or mistakes, remember to be gracious with yourself. Yes, stop the sin that currently has you pinned. Yes, choose to do differently and seek help and support from others so that you may heal and keep moving forward. But also be sure to understand that this is a lifelong process that is about building new habits. This is difficult, but also exceedingly rewarding. Most of all, remember that God knows this process of salvation. God chose to offer you grace anyway, and God is with you every step of the way, even if you fall. This is the Gospel, and it is offered to you.

Peace be with you!

Horrifyingly Good News?

“Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them. But oh! The horror for the earth and sea! The devil has come down to you with great rage, for he knows that he only has a short time.” — Revelation 12:12, CEB

Well there is a motivating, hope inducing quote from the Scriptures! In all seriousness, the Revelation to John, the closing text of the Bible, is not usually regarded as a “go-to” Scriptural source of encouragement. Yes, you will get the odd quote from chapter 21 regarding the New Heaven and New Earth in reference to someone’s passing or hope for the future, but this is like skipping to the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to avoid all the messy stuff in the middle. You miss some excellent material like chapter 12, verses 1-12, which we will be looking at today!

Typically, we hear that Revelation is a scary book about the end of the world. This is partially true. After all, it is about heaven and earth being renewed under the reign of God. All evil is destroyed, and creation is brought back into the blessed state of Eden. However, like most biblical prophecies, Revelation is primarily concerned about a real-time acceptance of certain truths, and it is a call for change and endurance on the part of all Christians in all times and places, including ours!

Bearing that information in mind, let’s look at the passage for today, Revelation 12:1-12. This is a particularly fun section because it is loaded with the symbolism that defines Revelation and other biblical prophecies. It is also one of the more misunderstood sections of Revelation, mistakenly quoted as the origin story of Satan. Most importantly, though, the struggle represented in this particular section is one prime example of Revelation’s intent: to provide hope and call for faithful endurance on the part of Christian believers. 

Looking at the first section of this passage, verses 1-6, we have some interesting symbolism that on the surface, sounds a little crazy. We have woman “clothed with the sun” with a twelve star crown on her head, giving birth to a male child “who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (v. 1 and 5). This child is snatched up to God’s throne due to a “great fiery red dragon” who wanted to eat this child (v. 3-4). Interesting and slightly terrifying, yes?

Let’s start with the middle, because that is how I do things and I am the one writing. Who is this male child? Can you think of a male child who was born, essential to the Christian faith, and destined to rule the nations? Jesus! Exactly. The Messiah, the Christ, the One who is sent for the salvation of the world, that’s who we are most likely talking about here. His being “snatched up to God” in verse 5 is an interesting description of Jesus ascending, which effectively removed him from dealing with the dragon, who we learn to be Satan in verse 9. We will come back to this.

The woman giving birth, then, could be assumed to be Mary. This is a fairly common interpretation. However, the woman, whose description is very similar to other goddesses of the time, could also be a symbolic representation of Israel, the nation that gave birth to the Messiah, as well as the twelve tribes and disciples (“crown of twelve stars on her head,” verse 1). For those of you who don’t know, the nation of Israel is originally composed of twelve tribes, representing the twelve children of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, renamed “Israel” after a wrestling match with a divine being. So there you go. Moving on!

So in the first section, we have the Messiah being born and exalted, removed from the power of the dragon, the devil. This brings us to the second half, which is often interpreted as an origin story for the devil, in which the devil is an angel, thrown to earth for making war in the heaven, at which point he ceases to be an angel and becomes Satan, whilst his angels become demons. Sound familiar?

“But wait,” you ask, “The devil was already in the first section! This is all after Jesus is born and exalted, and Satan is older than that!”


Also, if you’re a persecuted Christian in the 1st Century, do you think you would care about where the devil came from as opposed to why you are suffering and what to do about it? Probably not. What exactly are we dealing with, then?

Satan is making war in heaven, and Michael, a warrior angel, throws him and his angels from heaven (see verses 7-9). So what does this have to do with persecution and hope and all that mess we talked about earlier? Let’s look at verses 10-12.

Satan no longer has any footing in the realm of God. You see Satan was a divine being. We see this in Job and in the Gospels when he tempts Jesus. His job is to test the faithfulness of people, indicated by his name, meaning “Adversary.” However, he is pretty wicked about the way he tests people, and one of the ways this testing is perceived is through the persecution of the church on the part of certain Jewish communities and Roman authorities.

At this time, however, Satan is cast to earth, and the Messiah is exalted in heaven (“The salvation and power and kingdom of God, and the authority of his Christ have come,” verse 10). As we see in verse 11, “The accuser has been thrown down.” 

The good news of this text is that Satan has already lost. God is victorious, and Christ is the one who is really in charge, not the devil, not Caesar, and not the powers of evil and suffering that continue to wound us today.

“But wait,” you interrupt again, “if that is true, how come they still suffered? Why does the world still look like it does today?”

Excellent question!

Look at our verse for the day, which kicked off this post.

“The devil has come down to you with great rage, for he knows that he only has a short time” (12:12)

While Satan is not a power in heaven, and while the ultimate victory belongs to God, evil is evil precisely because it does not acknowledge the rule of God. We are still a free creation, able to choose the paths we take, and as long as that is the case, evil will always be a possibility, and it is one that we choose all too often. 

What’s great, though, is that through this text we can see the truth. Evil and suffering don’t have the final word with God, and they shouldn’t with us. It is easy to be swept up in the negativity and pain of the world. It is often easier to participate in it, whether directly or indirectly (ignoring it).

The hard thing to do is to live faithfully by making Jesus the authority in our lives. The hard thing to do is to let love and compassion guide us as opposed to our own self-interests. The hard thing to do is to live with awareness and concern for others. These difficult tasks, however, are exactly what we are called to do in order to usher in the reign of God in the world. It has to be done with our free will. We have to choose to believe and live in the Light, otherwise the worst parts of this world will only grow stronger. 

This is not a call for you to drop everything and go to an African country to build wells (although, if you want to, go for it). The ministry of Christ is not confined to big, church-organized activities that make us look good. Being a follower of Christ, living in the Light, is about how we go about our daily lives. Work, school, family, friends, sports, any and all of our daily doings are opportunities to start living with more love, more compassion, and more faith. If we all make a commitment to heed this good news from Revelation, if we recognize our role in this world, and if we choose to do something different (repent?), then we can expect to experience a joy that pierces through the darkness and pain in order to transform it all into something beautiful.

Peace be with you!

Blasted (Blessed?) Parables…

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.”                 — Matthew 13:44, CEB

“Oh, he’s not stopping,” I’m sure the disciples thought as Jesus entered into the sixth parable of the day, found in chapter 13 of Matthew’s rendition of the Gospel. Truly, parables can be frustrating speech today in the 21st Century, let alone today, in the 21st Century, after being written in a foreign, ancient language in the 1st Century. However, this tends to be Jesus’ preferred method of teaching, and the rewards waiting to be discovered, I have found, are well worth any frustrations the excavation might temporarily cause us. So let’s dig in!

The focus for today is on Matthew 13:44-46. Use the link to open the Bible app and follow along! These are actually some of the less troubling parables that Jesus puts out there to be deciphered, so let’s all be thankful for that (the troubling ones will be addressed later, mwahaha!). These are, however, very loaded parables, full of wisdom for those of us who care to take a look. They don’t look like much, two simple paragraphs of text talking about the kingdom of heaven being like treasure. Okay, sure, that makes sense, but the implications of the text can be quite lovely and powerful if we stop and think about them.

Starting with the first parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field” (13:44). When you think of heaven, you normally think of a realm, right? The place we all go after we die, assuming we are on the list? It should be interesting, then, that the kingdom of heaven is discussed as though it is something to be discovered, actively, here and now as we live. Indeed, this almost feels like Luke’s quote of Jesus, when he says, “God’s kingdom is already among you” (Luke 17:20-21). The kingdom of heaven, then, is hidden in the midst of what we assume to be perfectly ordinary life. Situations that we write off as mere “fields,” places that we simply must survive until we get to that blessed kingdom could actually places in which we discover God’s kingdom already at work.

What if our jobs, family life, sporting events, relationships, struggles, successes, bus rides, delayed flights, arguments, and all the other seemingly simple and mundane aspects of our lives were places in which the kingdom of heaven is effectively hidden, waiting for us to look with new eyes? What if we acted like this was the case?

Looking at the second parable, we are told “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls” (13:45). Spot a difference? All too often, this text is preached or discussed as if the kingdom of heaven is described as being the pearl that is bought, making it consistent with the “treasure in a field” parable. That’s not what it says, is it? The kingdom is compared to the merchant, not the pearl. Interesting, no? The kingdom is making purchases… let’s take a look.

In Matthew, three chapters previous to our text, Jesus sends the disciples out to cure and preach and teach and proclaim one very important message, “The kingdom of heaven has come near!” (10:7). So the kingdom of heaven is: 1) mobile, and 2) present wherever Jesus or his teachings are present and taking effect. When people are experiencing healing or good news or comfort in the name of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of heaven makes an appearance. Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom of heaven, which brings our parable of the merchant into focus (I hope).

The merchant “found one very precious pearl” and “went and sold all that he owned and bought it” (13:46). Seeing that Jesus, the kingdom of heaven in the flesh, has given (literally) all that he has to purchase this precious pearl, I now submit to you my estimation of what this pearl symbolizes: humanity, specifically, YOU. As Paul teaches the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.” Granted, this is a quote from a larger conversation about the way the Corinthians were still trying to cling to the practices of their lives before Christ, but still it says the same thing this parable seems to indicate. The kingdom of God seeks us out just as we should be trying to seek it out. Further, the kingdom of God, in Christ Jesus, has paid for us already, for in God’s eyes, you and I are precious pearls worth everything.

The question that these parables pose to you and I today, then, is whether or not we are putting the same amount of effort into finding the kingdom and giving our all so that others might experience it. Are you and I walking through life with eyes, ears, arms, and hearts open, ready to share the love of God with others in our most mundane, inglorious moments? Or are we constantly passing by the treasure that is hidden right under our nose?

As we go out into the day, I hope that this conversation about the parables of Jesus, and the price he paid for us encourages you to think about what is most valuable to you. I hope it encourages you, like it does me, to look past the dull exterior of your daily moments so that you will instead see that you are not only called to accept the kingdom of God that stands before you, arms open wide, but you are also called to share that kingdom through your kindness, your love, and your compassion. Peace be with you!

When You’re Tired of Tragedy

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in Texas, which occurred yesterday in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, everyone is already arguing. This is partially good, because it means people care, even if it has to be a specific kind of death to warrant one’s concern. On the other hand, all of us getting indignant (no matter how technically righteous) will result in what has typically been done: nothing. What hope and guidance does God give us in relation to such senseless violence?

In the time of Christ, things weren’t so different. The Roman Empire ruled with an (often subtle) iron fist, and death was a part of everyday life, even if it was dressed up as justice or entertainment. Jesus’ message came to us in a time of immense suffering, and though we have done a pretty good job of watering down this message in a lot of ways, the fact remains that the Gospel of Christ was intended to speak to us in the darkest of times, and when our young people are dying as a result of gang violence (often ignored in these conversations), when worshipers are massacred in what was intended to be a place of love and safety, and when so many seem resigned to the inevitability of such things, I would say we are in the midst of such times, and the Gospel has something to say.

In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus offers his famous response about paying taxes to Caesar and giving to God that which is expected. What does that have to do with this particular conversation? In the text, when Jesus asks for the coin, the focus is on taxes. Technically, the focus is on him saying something to violate either civil law or the Torah (Law or Instruction; Hebrew Bible, specifically, the first five books), but the topic is paying taxes. ANYWAY, Jesus holds up the coin and asks, “Whose image and inscription is on this?” The Greek word for image in this case is eikon

Important? Yes. You see, at this time, Matthew, Jesus, and anyone else who wasn’t in a synagogue would have been using what is called the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. Matthew, the writer of this Gospel, used the Septuagint for Old Testament quotes and wrote the Gospel in Greek. Now, remember that word eikon? Let’s take a look at the Greek version of Genesis, specifically 1:26. On verse 26, second line, first word, do you see something that looks like this: εἰκόνα? Transliterated to English letters, it is (EEEK!) eikona! See a similarity there? I apologize, but the Bible nerd in me loves when this kind of thing pans out.

Anyway, getting back to the main conversation, Jesus’ word of advice is to “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matt. 22:21). The image of Caesar is on the coin, so that goes to Caesar, but whose image is on humanity? That’s right: God’s. Jesus reveals that God isn’t concerned about things, but about the faithfulness of people. PEOPLE. Not things.

What does that have to do with the senseless tragedies that surround us? Too often, we argue about the things and what to do with them rather than how we can be faithful as God’s people in the midst of this darkness. What’s the difference? Let’s take a look at the anti-gun/anti-gun regulation argument, and let’s not pretend that this didn’t start as soon as we learned about all those innocent people dying.

This argument is going to fail and result in nothing. Do you want to know how I know? Because no one is concerned about people. They are concerned about things, namely guns. “But we are anti-gun because of people!” It doesn’t show when you enter into the discussion. “But we are anti-gun control because we care about people and their freedom and safety!” It also doesn’t show when you enter the discussion. Both sides of this are so consumed with the idea of rights or bans or laws that they forget about what the issue really is (or should be): the preservation of life and the love of people. 

You see, we are in a society that is always against something. ALWAYS. Whether guns, abortion, immigration, race, monuments, or any other hot-button issue out there, we are always piping up about what we are against, but the  thing is that nothing seems to change, and that’s precisely because all that this amounts to is complaining. There are no (good) solutions proposed that are workable, and these issues (while important) become things we “just can’t talk about” because they get everyone’s blood pressure up (James 1:19-20, anyone?).

Our political structure thrives on this because ultimately, our bickering and silence amounts to a great degree of comfort for those in charge. They don’t have to pass any difficult legislation, all the while the world just keeps spinning as we continue arguing about what to do with our stuff. So what is the solution proposed by Christ and how does that help us?

Instead of focusing on the objects and what we are against, perhaps our conversations should start with what we are concerned about, and perhaps (just PERHAPS), that needs to be people. Not objects, not even freedom. What will protect ALL of our people? How can we care for ALL of our people?

If both sides of our political aisle were able to honestly say that they just care about the future of our nation, perhaps things would look different. If we became a nation of people who could let our love for people guide our conversations and decisions rather than the things we do or don’t want, perhaps things would look different. Doubt it if you want, but it hasn’t really been tried, and I’m at the point of believing that anything is worth a shot.

We need to talk about how we can stop, prevent, or at least impede the violence that will eventually tear this nation to pieces. It is a conversation that has to happen everywhere, from top to bottom, from the dinner table to the oval office. It can’t, however, be something that one “side” is a part of. We must make space for each other and move forward in a way that embraces what is common and what is dear to us all. We as a nation need to individually and communally figure out how we can go about our days in a new way that is centered on love for one another and faithfulness to God, and not on the things we do or don’t want. 

As you go forth and think, speak, and act in this world, it is my prayer that you will join me in trying to re-orient the way we do these things so that love really is the center of all of it. Vote based on your love of others. Speak based on your love of others. Act based on your love for others. As a further step, do these things based on the love God shows for you in Jesus Christ. Let us give ourselves to God, and not Caesar, so we can let the Holy Spirit move through us in order to shine the light of the Gospel to all we encounter, that we may finally see some change.


“The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”

— 1 Timothy 1:5

There is a lot of instruction out there these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion about how we need to think, feel, vote, eat, love, shop, dress, believe, etc. I would argue that for every facet of human life, big or small, there are ten to twenty different perspectives being forced on us about how to approach them. Social media, “news” networks, advertising, belligerent family members, and, yes, religious institutions all seem to be full of teachings that we are promised will bring us whatever it is we are seeking. 

On the flip side, these teachings are reinforced with the threat that failure to heed them will result in all manner of unfortunate and unpleasant consequences. This is, of course, not because those seeking to manipulate us are the problem (heavens, no!). It is our own fault for daring to think critically about what is being shoveled at us.

Interestingly enough, though, thinking critically is exactly what we should be doing, and the Scriptures encourage it wholeheartedly. Deuteronomy encourages us to examine whether those claiming to speak on behalf of God are really doing so, and it even includes a severe penalty for those who do not speak what is right, causing unnecessary worry for the people. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul encourages us to not “brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.”

Rather than allowing ourselves to be told what to think or what instructions to follow, we would probably be better off paying attention to how we think with regard to our chosen paths. Undoubtedly, there are paths that are dangerous for ourselves and for others, but, generally speaking, if we approach each crossroads with a carefully chosen process of discernment, we may rest assured that our chances of being steered wrong are exponentially reduced. Ironically, to give this a try, you will have to trust me and my interpretation of the Scriptures a little, but please feel free to think critically and let me know how it sits with you!

For me, the greatest guiding principles to life’s decisions can be found in the Gospel (predictable? Meh.). The first is Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment in the Law, Matthew 22:34-40. Christ teaches us that it is not the rules that are most important. Rather, it is how we determine which rules to follow or break, and the best way to make that determination is to ask whether whatever path we are considering is centered in love for God and others or… not. 

Second, we find a similar teaching from Paul in his Letter to the Romans. We are taught that the right decision is made when it is rooted in the love of one’s neighbor, which (in biblical terms) means everyone, not just those who we consider worth it or easy to love (see Matthew 5:43-48). This is the love God offers us in Jesus, and it is the love we are expected to imitate. On a side note, if you happen to be sitting there in wonder at the impractical or monotonous nature of this teaching, consider whether you would want strangers to think kindly or selfishly in a matter that affects you. Hmmm…

Finally, we have the quote that started off this post. With all the instruction that awaits us in this crazy world of ours, no matter who or what is attempting to influence you, it is essential that you and I make decisions that are centered in love that is authentically from the heart, won’t violate our conscience, and will promote a sense of faith and hope in others. As you go about the rest of your day, I hope you will join me in resolving to only follow that instruction which keeps your conscience clean, your hope alive, and your heart full of love. 

Something Good Will Come?

“Get along well with God and be at peace; from this something good will come to you.”

–Job 22:21, CEB

For anyone familiar with the book of Job from the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, this quote seems a bit callous. For those of us unfamiliar with the story, Job is a text that wrestles with the balance between God being good and the suffering of the innocent. All the while, as innocent Job suffers for no reason (chapter 2, verse 3), his friends make pretty lazy, haphazard attempts to console him, ironically through blaming him. Obviously, some secret sin of his has cost him his family, his wife, his health, and all that he ever possessed. Sounds pretty relevant to today, no? One resolution many decide on when faced with the pain of existence is that there is no God, but I have always found that route to be rather petulant. I also find the bad God route to be equally irritating. Both of these have a self-centered nature that ultimately says, “Life isn’t what I want it to be all the time, therefore there must not be anything bigger to it.”

While an atheistic approach to the world’s evils is problematic, I also find the theology of Job’s friends to be rather repugnant. However, many of us who grew up in or encountered the faith know that many well-meaning people still cling to the answers of Job’s friends. What’s worse, they use that logic as way to comfort those who are in pain.

Take the quote above, for example. Have you ever been going through a particularly dark time in life and fed something akin to that? Whether it’s “get along well with God” or “give it up to God” or any other well-intended but non-descriptive advice, it’s not really helpful. What does that mean? How does one do that? What if everything doesn’t get better after that?

First off, everyone needs to acknowledge the love behind any attempt to bring comfort to a situation of pain. Many people are “fixers,” and they cannot make themselves sit by in silence, even though this may be more necessary and beneficial. That love needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Secondly, if you’re one of those people, a “fixer,” God made you that way for a reason, so don’t read this post and think it’s an attack on you. Hopefully, what you read here will encourage you to re-interpret your gifts. I have had to do this many times and will probably do it a million more, so I hope you will be encouraged, not discouraged by this conversation.

With all that out of the way, here we go!

Let it be known that the words of “comfort” we just picked are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. Indeed, the issue tends to be whether or not they are properly understood, which, in a culture saturated with the prosperity gospel, is a hard task to tackle. The prosperity gospel is the usage of the story of Jesus to gain a profit. It involves telling people if they give extra money, have extra faith, and believe correctly, their life will be materially excellent. Intentional or not, I would guess that most churches have fallen into this trap, if not in the pulpit, in the pews. It is an easy enough system to believe and subscribe to, particularly in a nation like the United States, where things can be expected to pan out well, more or less. The problem is that the prosperity gospel builds a load of unrealistic expectations that also deny the very thing that defines the Christian faith and honestly addresses the darkness of life: the cross of Christ. It is through the cross that we can hope to gain valuable (not to mention honest) insight into Scripture’s words of comfort and hope.

First of all, in the story of Jesus, as in Job, faithful living never means that everything is going to be fine all the time. As a matter of fact, Jesus is quite clear about this here, in Matthew 10:34-39. Faith in Jesus can actually bring more tension and issues into even the most sacred parts of our lives, including our families. As a matter of fact, families did betray their loved ones to the authorities if they were followers of Jesus, which doesn’t exactly fit with the prosperity gospel narrative. Again, looking at the cross, Jesus, the human who was one with God, the very substance of God made flesh, still ended up dying a terribly painful and humiliating death.

While not many of us here in the United States will not experience this particular form of pain (as opposed to other places in the world), the same truth can still be found in the fact that the faithful suffer just as much  as anyone else. Because of what we won’t do, buy, support, or participate in, the faithful Christian often finds themselves under some form of strain, not to mention the harsh realities of sin, illness, and death that affect all people as a rule, which brings me to my next point.

Faith is about seeking the ultimate Good (God) in the midst of life, not about experiencing only the mere goods that are a part of life. Rather than focusing on whether or not our lives look like we would prefer them to, faith challenges us to focus on making our lives into what God would prefer them to be. In the midst of the beauty, pain, loss, love, and sheer chaos of life, the life of faith is one that is devoted to using our freedom to care for others.

This will not always be noticeably rewarded, but that can’t be what it’s all about. Similar to yesterday’s topic, we can’t just abandon the work of faith because we aren’t getting what we want (2 Thessalonians 3:13). What we are doing seems to cost us too much. We still experience the harshest realities of life even though we feel we don’t deserve it. We still struggle, despite our best efforts. If, however, we let these things keep us from loving God through loving others, and we turn our focus inward, we end up strengthening the darkness that afflicts us. 

On the other hand, if in the midst of the pain of life we resolve to continue seeking God through prayer, Scripture, and the love of others, we will experience blessedness. Being blessed has nothing to do with what you possess or the comfort of your life. In the Bible, being blessed is about being in the presence of God and sharing that presence with others. This is what Job’s friend should have been trying to communicate in the quote that kicked off this post. Seeking God will yield good results, “something good will come,” but it doesn’t mean that everything bad will go away. Instead, it means that we become gifted with the knowledge that whatever we face, we do not face it alone. As we continue to march through whatever dark valley we are stuck in, we can be comforted by the knowledge that if we continue to love and trust, the power of good in the world (indeed, the power of God) will grow with each step until we eventually come to the place where we can see what God is doing in and through us.

When the time comes to comfort others, perhaps the best thing we can do is simply keep a silent vigil with those who are suffering. Presence goes a long way. If we are to speak, however, let’s speak words of comfort that don’t lay blame or give false hope. Instead, let’s tell the honest story of a God who is with us in the darkest of moments, who shows us, in the person of Jesus, what it looks like to live faithfully through the pain of life. In doing so, we offer the real hope we are given in the story of the resurrection, that this pain doesn’t have to define us, that it doesn’t get the final say. 

Show Me Some Love!

“What can I give back to the LORD for all the good things he has done for me? I’ll lift up the cup of salvation. I’ll call on the LORD’s name. I’ll keep the promises I made to the LORD in the presence of all God’s people.” — Psalm 116:12-14, CEB

I know, I know. Cute freakin’ dog, right? For the life of me, I cannot remember his name, mostly because he had about twenty when I met him. I was on my first international mission trip with the church I was a member of at the time. We were in Costa Rica working on an orphanage, and this adorable little guy quickly became my shadow. Although I was instructed by trip leaders not to pet him for fear of disease or getting bitten, I opted to follow the lead of the local workers and love on… let’s call him “Jake,” because a Spanish name from this thoroughly white American would be wrong.

Now, Jake followed me around, brought me various items he felt I needed, and always (ALWAYS) stayed close during lunch, knowing he could expect to be paid in lunch meat. Midweek, though, I was asked by the workers and those running the orphanage not to feed Jake anymore, due to some fear of creating dependency.

I was worried that my failure to feed this wandering canine would result in me losing my workweek buddy, being an introverted animal lover who couldn’t care less if a human doesn’t like me. However, he still continued to shadow me for the remainder of the trip, no charge! He was still bringing me items, leaning on me as I took water breaks, and flat-out snuggling me at lunch, although I wasn’t really giving him what I’m sure he was hoping for, and here is where the lesson can be found.

We often go on and on about the kindness and unconditional love of dogs, unless you’re one who doesn’t like dogs (close button is in the upper right corner). For all our praise of these qualities, however, humans are hands down the absolute worst at imitating them. Look at our Scripture for today (Psalm 116), a selection of which is at the start of this post.

What do we find in verse 1? I submit that it is the best description of human affection I have found in the Bible to date. “I love the LORD because he hears my requests for mercy.” We often “love” based on what we are given, and I know you know that is true. Unlike Jake, who continued to love on me despite my failure to give him what he probably really wanted, our expressions of love that we very well may feel often depend on whether or not we are seeing what we want to see in others.

Look back at the Scripture that opened this post. The psalmist declares that they will keep the promises they made because God has done good things for them. Well, what if some bad stuff goes down? Are you just done? “Forget those promises, if God didn’t deliver, why should I?” I have thought this way before, and I’m sure you have as well. God can handle and work with this, but what about the people who depend on us for love? What about the times you and I learned the hard way that human “love” is often determined by performance? It hurt, didn’t it?

I have had many instances in my life when expressed love was given in return for particular achievements. Otherwise, I just had to trust that this love was there. I have also been the one to withhold grace until I felt it was merited, which, of course, made it something other than grace (“free, unmerited love or favor”). We live in a world that operates based on this model, and while it is technically fair, it also isn’t.

Not a single person in this world always lives the way they should, and this is especially true in relationships, whether friendly, romantic, or familial. In these places, we don’t always get to see the best in people, but they also don’t always see our best either. So, while we feel it may be fair to operate via a justice based model of love, we are probably better off doing something else.

“Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” — Luke 6:31, CEB

Oh, yes, we are back in Sunday School (Never been? Here is your glimpse into that world!). While this teaching has probably been beaten to death as the fundamental way in which we are to relate to others, to actually consider taking it seriously in life’s most painful moments takes it to a whole other level.

Meeting a perfect stranger, someone in need, a friend asking for help, these are all easy enough, right?

How about when your spouse cheats? What about when your role model messes up? What about when someone you hold close to your heart betrays that in any way? Now, we are getting to the heart of the matter. It is not enough to keep our promises and do our best for others when we get what we want. If our lives and this world are to improve in any way, people have to start actually holding themselves to a constant standard of love that is independent of the actions of others. 

What if we are the cheater, the screw up, the betrayer? This is when it gets interesting. Just as we need to put a stop to that behavior in order to live out the “Golden Rule” above, we also need to treat ourselves with that level of grace. Guilt can be useful in helping us stop certain behaviors,  but if we just stop at feeling guilty, resentful, and regretful, we aren’t really solving the problem, and we further diminish the image of God that rests on all of us, regardless of what we have done with it. 

We must extend the grace that we would desire to ourselves and others whether or not we/they deserve it, as this is what makes it grace and this is what can ultimately transform our lives and this world into more sacred and blessed experiences. If you have been hurt, it happens. It just happens. People fail and they should have to make up for it, but the situation still calls for a gracious approach. If you are the one who has caused the problem(s), it happens. You will have to do the work to repair your relationships, but it can be done. 

Regardless of where we are at on this spectrum, we should all take a moment to remember that grace is something the world desperately needs more of. If we get too jaded, cynical, or accepting regarding the wrongs in life, nothing will ever get any better. This doesn’t mean we get all “sunny side up” and ignore the pain in life, but it does mean that we put things in perspective and do our best with what we are in control of. Today, as you go about your doings, resolve to be more gracious and loving in the ways God is revealing to you. Maybe it is admitting you were wrong. Maybe it is accepting an apology and moving forward. Maybe it is meeting resistance with kindness. Maybe it is forgiving yourself and starting on the long road of rehabilitation. Only you know, but rest assured that you are not alone, that the love of God in Christ is with you wherever you go.