In Hot Pursuit

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves the one who pursues righteousness. — Proverbs 15:9, NRSV

I used to think being transformed by God’s grace was a passive act. Time after time, mistake after mistake, and prayer after prayer I would wait for that magic moment that I would no longer be subject to my bad habits. I believed there would be this “place” in life that would signal my spiritual maturity and official station as a disciple of Jesus.

Welp.

Needless to say, that is not the experience I have had, and I thank God for that. I was denying my agency in life, missing my part in God’s story, and setting myself up for failure in trying to hit a “moving target” of salvation that doesn’t exist. As the well-beaten Emerson quote says, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and the same is doubly true for the life of faith in Christ.

Scripture speaks often of pursuit. The Scripture above from Proverbs expresses God’s approval for those who pursue righteousness. Psalm 34:14 encourages us to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of “straining forward to what lies ahead” (verse 13). Jesus exhorts His followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). This theme of effort, pursuit, and striving is consistent throughout all of Scripture, and it is a vital lesson for us today.

The quality and holiness of our lives depend not on all we manage to achieve, but all that we decide to pursue with our whole heart. Faith is a journey that takes us to the end of our time on this earth. Salvation is the way in which we live, and not a static place to stand. If we spend our time chasing after accomplishments and accolades while remaining complacent in our faith life, we have veered off course and lost “the narrow path.” However, should we decide to pursue God in every moment, and if we see ourselves, each other, and all this world has to offer as sacred, we will be re-oriented toward God’s kingdom, and we will hasten its coming.

This is not a check-list, finish line kind of race. It is one of endurance, one that will have many obstacles and pit-falls, one that will sometimes involve us getting lost and needing to be re-calibrated. But it is also a journey of transformation. In making the effort to recognize what George Fox called “that of God in everyone,” and in striving to live a Christ-like life, we do actually change and grow in our connection to God. This in turn has a positive impact on those with whom we interact, creating a chain effect that makes the Kingdom of God a current reality.

We all have a part to play in God’s story. We all have the freedom to choose what to do with the love of God and the relationship He offers us. I pray that as we go out into this, we will choose to act on that love, honoring it in our thoughts, our words, and our various doings. In this way, we both pursue and live out our salvation.

Peace be with you!

 

Never the Twain Shall Meet

But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has wrought deliverance in Israel. — 1 Samuel 11:13, RSV

There are somethings that just don’t go together. To avoid offending those who would disagree, I will simply leave you to your own imaginings, as I’m sure that first sentence conjured up all kinds of interesting things. I simply don’t want to start another “pineapple and pizza” debate. If, however, you have strong feelings on the subject, my “comments” section is open for your use.

The point here is that certain things don’t or can’t coincide, and this is a truth that holds for the life of faith. When eternal life meets life that is temporal, there are particular conditions that need to be met for that to work out well. This is the entire point of Biblical texts like Leviticus, Halal in Islam, or the act of confession in Christian circles. When we are attempting to live in communion with God, it’s best to be accommodating.

The quote above comes from the First Book of Samuel, the prophet who anoints the first king of Israel, Saul. In this particular story, there are those who refused to acknowledge Saul’s kingship who are about to be executed. Saul, in the better phase of his rule, decrees that because God’s deliverance has come to Israel, no one is to be killed. This struck me as a reminder that for us to cling to God’s saving presence, there are certain things we need to be willing to release.

A great example can be found in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spoiler alert (it came out in 1989…), they find the Holy Grail, save Indiana’s dad, and are trying to escape the collapsing ruins when the Grail falls into an ever-widening crevice. Indy’s somewhat lover Nazi dives in after it. Indy catches her hand, but because she couldn’t help reaching for the coveted chalice, she plummets to either her death or what I imagine would be the least fun ball pit ever. Subsequently, it’s Indiana’s turn to reach for the chalice, but the soothing words of Sean Connery urging him to “Let it go” snap him back to disastrous reality, just in time for him to leave the cup and escape with his life.

Now, I hear you. “Cool recap, bro, but what’s the point?”

The point, dear reader, is that while death and life are inextricably linked, there is no room for death-dealing vices in eternal life, that is, the life we live when we start walking according to God’s way. We can’t flee the crumbling structure of our selfish lives while also trying to satisfy our greed. This is not a “have your cake and eat it” kind of situation.

While God understands our human condition and loves us all the more, to choose a life with God is to choose to play second fiddle to His will for us. That will is that we transform our lives from self-centered behavior to a practice of love for God through our love for each other as evidenced in the life of Jesus Christ. This is not some kind of ascetic practice or punishment, but it is a demanding lifestyle that, in the end, enables us to truly live.

We cannot hate a single neighbor or enemy and claim to love the God that created them. We cannot refuse grace and mercy to others while expecting it from the One who offers it to us. We cannot cling to our old fears, grudges, and destructive habits while seeking to abide in the presence of the Living God. Just as Saul saw that execution did not rightfully express the salvation of God, so we must do all we can to recognize and root out those behaviors and habits that fall short of the love God has for us.

Now, this is not easy, and it is not a “step” that you can check off as complete, moving on to a life of piety and ease. This is a lifelong endeavor, for as long as we are in the world, we will be affected by it, for better or worse. We will always need to be on guard when it comes to our hearts, minds, and how we treat one another. If we are lax, then all of those things we set aside can crawl right back into our lives.

Naturally, this means everyone is a hypocrite. Here’s a fun fact, though: Every human who ever tries to change the world for the better is a hypocrite, because none of us can live up to our ideals. In fact, the best teachers are those who personally know the disastrous consequences of making the wrong choice. I would take one of those over ten who are self-righteous or who have gone relatively unchallenged in life. Jesus aside, the screw ups have the best lessons to impart, and I gladly count myself among such people, assuming anyone finds my words useful.

We all have our demons and struggles and temptations. We all have things we need to release before we can fully enjoy the presence of God and the fullness of this good creation. My prayer is that you will join me in this lifelong effort of discipleship. Let’s pray for one another that we may walk together and heal what needs to be healed in order that we may not just live, but be fully alive.

Peace be with you!

The Most Important Decision

Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.Psalm 135:18, NRSV

Everybody worships something. It may not be God, and most often, sadly, it isn’t. Our idols include celebrities, information, politics, institutions (including religious ones), our nations, families, work, money and others.

There are many things we worship, and, as the Psalmist points out in 135:15-18, our lives reflect this. We treat each other in accordance with our idols, and such things hardly cause us to treat one another well. When we fail to honor the One who is known for His compassion and justice (135:14), we also fail to exhibit those traits as a rule. Instead, our love for our neighbor depends on how they relate to the power, wealth, and desires that actually govern us.

For me, Sundays are a day to decide. I worship because I am grateful for my life. Further, I want to renew my commitment to live and love according to my example in Jesus Christ, rather than allowing the many false gods of our time to dictate my thoughts, words, and actions. I may fail at times throughout the week (duh), but I always come back to my center that I may be empowered by God’s grace to try again.

I don’t know where you’re at or what your idols may be. We all have them. I just want to issue an encouragement to make a different choice.

As my Old Testament professor once said, “You become what you worship.” So let’s examine what drives us, and let’s decide to live according to the image of love, for such life has the power to change everything for the better.

Peace be with you!

The Holiness of Nothing

And you shall do no work on this same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. — Leviticus 23:28, RSVCE

I was thumbing through Leviticus 23 this morning, which addresses all of the major feasts and festivals to be celebrated by the nation of Israel. I noticed the ideas of Sabbath and rest occur pretty frequently in this passage, and so I thought, “What better topic for a Monday than rest?” Indeed, I think it is an underappreciated mandate of the Old Testament, especially for all that Hebrews has to say about it.

In our current non-stop, competitive culture, “rest” is what you do when you have a little spare time. Rest is what we are to do after we clock-out, finish our various tasks, and squeeze every last ounce of productivity from our bones. Too often, our notion of “rest” is limited to the 5-ish hours of pseudo-sleep we allow ourselves before doing it all over again.

This refusal to recover contributes to our obesity and heart disease crisis, in addition to negatively impacting our relationships with God, ourselves, and each other. We even wear our exhaustion and poor health as a badge of honor, bragging about who sleeps, eats, or uses vacation days the least. On the other side, those who miss work or nap are considered lazy or unproductive. Those who take mental health days are considered “sensitive” or “snowflakes” who haven’t yet matured into proper, self-damaging workers.

Turning to the religious realm, salvation is viewed in relation to what we do or accomplish. Sure, we are “saved by faith” in the Christian world, but properly living out the Gospel involves action. Mission trips, committees, Sunday School, repairs, Fall Festival, soup kitchens, prayer meetings, weekly worship, and private devotional life are all ways we “keep connected” to God and the Church… But what about Sabbath?

What about that pesky commandment that encourages us to find holiness in… nothing? What if we took one day per week to just “be?” Surely our bank accounts would hit zero, our kids would starve, and we’d lose our connection to our Savior… Or not.

In the Leviticus text, every festival that requires a holy convocation simultaneously functions as a Sabbath. “You shall do no work.” By my count, this command occurs at least 8 times in chapter 23. Clearly, this is an important part of Israel’s holy convocations, but why?

After praying over this question, it came to me that in Leviticus (and the Bible as a whole), holiness is not the product of human effort. Rather, it is the result of God’s presence, and the Sabbath reminds us of that. No amount of sacrifices, office hours, Bible studies, mission trips, volunteering, sleepless nights, or heart attacks will earn us the peace and holiness that come from God alone. We are mortal, finite creatures that need rest, play, and time spent in unproductive community for its own sake.

I don’t even like that some people try to justify rest as ultimately productive. “Well it is productive because you have the energy to achieve more later!” You’ve missed the point. Rest is good because it reminds us of our dependence. It is good because our bodies and spirits need it to survive and thrive. Sabbath rest is a necessary reminder that God gives us this world and this life that they may be enjoyed. We are reminded that holiness comes from a relationship with God that extends beyond all our external religious expressions.

I know that we all can’t always afford to set a whole day aside to nothing, but that is okay. How about an hour a day? What if we took a little time every day to just “be?” Take a nap, read a book, watch a garbage television show, play, or talk about nothing with your loved ones. All the while, keep in mind that this is God’s gift to you, reminding you to lean on Him and the holiness He grants to us as an act of grace. After all, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Peace be with you!