We Smell Wrong

While any semblance of “Christian culture” is fading fast, Christian-Judeo belief systems and traditions have heavily influenced the United States. Our laws and norms were shaped in large part by religion and faith, despite a mounting rejection and attack on those same moral and spiritual precepts. If you believe the things that have influenced the present from the past, it’s easy to feel superior, threatened and/or victimized in planning the counter-assault against society, the legal system, political opponents, etc. What if we’ve gotten it backwards, in some ways? Consider the following passage:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

As Christianity fights for it’s previously enjoyed relative favor in American culture, we can’t forget the Truth of the Gospel in defense of a lesser gospel. The call of Jesus is to follow Him and, as Paul writes to the church in Corinth above, His procession spreads His smell.

If we are saved by His grace, we should know His path by the smell of death (“we are an aroma that brings death”). Our relationship with Him is affirmed in our sacrifice of us. There has to be a sacrifice of superiority, privilege, entitlement or other related perceptions commonly fostered in a society where the heritage affirms your beliefs.

Yet, to those that are not familiar with His grace and the invitation into His salvation, we should smell like “an aroma that brings life.” We should be the most encouraging, selfless, humble witness of the resurrection of Jesus that is imaginable. People from outside of that same system of beliefs should be attracted to the hope that comes from Christ through us; not us at them. Our judgements, condemnations, Facebook debates and accusations against “them” don’t smell like and offer of life; they smell like the imposition of death.

Here’s the thing . . . none us can really smell like life unless we are willing to smell like death. Until and unless we give up our political positions, arrogant arguments, insecure self-promotions and other affirmations of us, we won’t smell like Him. Only in dying to the need to be heard, right, protected or promoted will we actually smell the way that we are intended to smell.


Value in the Number

luke and obi-wanLast week, Julie and I went to see “Creed.” This is the newest installment in the Rocky series, in which Rocky trains Apollo Creed’s son as a fighter. The next day we went with my parents and some friends along with our son, Haynes, to see the new Star Wars movie. Of course, this is the latest of that science fiction saga. Both of the originating movies in the series came in out in the 1970’s.

Rocky is now an old man, where he started as the young, up and coming boxer. Luke Skywalker has a gray beard, where he started as the young, up and coming Jedi. Decades have passed, perspective has changed and life has presented its twists and turns. The gray hair of wisdom has replaced the naiveté of youth. The passion of promise is replaced with the sageness of experience. Sage wisdom isn’t free, however, the cost of wisdom is the challenge of trials.

I was ten years old when my dad took me to the first Star Wars. My son is seven as I took him and I was thankful that my dad was there with us. His beard is gray. For that matter, so is mine. The decades have produced depth and are adding to legacy.

These characters in these movies were like old friends. These are old friends who remind us of a time gone by. More than interest in their respective stories, there was an emotional connection to who and where I was compared to who and where I am now. Since both movies are part of a greater offering of a series of stories, the connection of where life was compared to where it is now spans decades.

One of my favorite verses, especially at the marking of a new year is Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Time is passing, things are changing. We all age and we all move from promise to reflection. The appreciation for life provides context to our circumstances. If we’ll realize our place in context of a span of years and our span of years in the context of eternity, we’ll value the “now” differently. We’ll value the new year differently.

When we recognize that the number of our days is finite but the context of our living is infinite, we will appreciate the opportunity in the subset. We’ll soak up the Godly wisdom from the temporal challenges and our heart will be changed. God will move us and change us and shape us and mold us even as dreams disappoint and hopes are calibrated. The depth of knowing Him is from the inside out and he will reveal Himself within us.

You’ve been given another new year; what are you going to do with Him in it?


The Same Measure

View-through-Glasses_Lenses__IMG_4565_cr-580x358I used to make a living by standing in a courtroom and making a case. The standard was the law and the method was often contrast of behavior vs. the standard. Knowledge of the standard in the law was necessary to work from the fixed point on which the court would agree. Contrast, or the lack of contrast, between the act(s) alleged and the fixed point of the law was necessary to show either adherence to the law or justification based in another’s variance from the law.

A witness generally couldn’t guess or opine with their opinions (speculation) or repeat things that weren’t verifiable (hearsay), among other rules for what could be testimony. With any attempt to vary from the rules, there would be an objection to keep that testimony out of evidence. Evidence is what establishes the contrast.

I find myself still thinking like that quite a bit. I don’t think the word “objection,” but often form the thought regarding what is objectionable. I make a case against another person in my mind. This is particularly true when the other person has a responsibility to behave in a certain way.

Here is a problem with that; I’m probably doing that very same thing to myself. I’m comparing my behaviors, performance, accomplishments and the evidence of my success to an external standard. I’m making a case against myself compared to the law.

Want support for that “probably?” Matthew 7:2 says, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Those words are from Jesus and many of us likely interpret what He is saying as the standard God holds us to, but I don’t think so for those of us that are born again by the Blood of Jesus. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to provide conditional grace. He offers me grace no matter my performance or the judgment I operate in. I can’t mess up the totality of His sacrifice for me.

The judgment that I pronounce is a declaration of the lens through which I see things. That lens applies to how I see myself as much as it does how I see others. I struggle to be satisfied with anything other than excellence so I struggle to be satisfied, period.

Satisfaction is not in accomplishment or even entirely in the truth. It’s in grace and truth (John 1:17), not just truth. Grace is to be our lens for how we view truth. That lens will have to be applied to ourselves if we ever hope to apply it to others.

Keeping Things Stirred Up

Stir-The-Pot-Public-Domain-520x245Monotony can beat a person down. The same old, day-in and day-out routine will numb our senses and dull our excitement. It’s hard to appreciate the depth of life and living from under the weight of administrative routine and meetings to discuss it.

We had a consultant come in last year who is a psychologist and wise counsel for us. As I sat with him for my alloted time, he asked me some questions, took some notes, crossed some things off and then circled one thing. He said, “this is what you are all about; you want to invest your life and time in things with eternal impact. Everything else is a pretty distant second.”

Immediately that resonated with me as true and I was affirmed in why I had made choices that I had in my career as well as our overall situation as a family. Once you’ve tasted and seen, it’s hard to un-see and you never want to go back to the routine. Once you’ve entered in, it’s hard to come back out.

More than in any other way, that satisfaction comes when interacting with people in a place of depth. When we get to get past the courtesies and into the heart of the matter, not only do I enjoy it but it invigorates me. It changes the whole day.

I made the point in my last blog entry that the primary place of a priest is to minister to the presence of God. The next stop is to minister to His people; and all people are His people. You and I are both designed to be priests unto the Lord and ministers of His eternal truth. We are invited into the people business. A few things I’ve noticed in this endeavor:

  • Engage in a conversation that goes beyond the weather
  • Resist the urge to hang out at “what do you do?”
  • Watch and listen for answers that reveal the issues
  • Pay attention to what and how they are saying
  • Non-verbal communication counts
  • From the heart, the mouth speaks
  • First and foremost, comfort and encourage
  • You can’t fix anybody, but you can leave them better
  • It’s amazing how better we feel after we do this

Ask for eyes to see and ears to hear and then engage the world around you as the priest and minister that you are designed to be. It’ll stir up life and hope in you even as you carry it for others.

Crowns of Love

Hope___Wallpaper_by_pincel3dJust stay connected. Just stay in the game. Just keep going. That’s really all that is required to get the win.

Life is hard and change is challenging. The difficulty of life has gotten on and in every one of us to some degree or another. The opportunity for those things that have impacted us negatively to be redeemed for the promise of glory takes time. Time require perseverance and perseverance holds a promise.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12.

Happiness (blessing) is only available when we push through the tough stuff and the tough stuff is certain to be part of the deal. There is eternal reward that is available in increasing measure as we persevere but we’ve got to stay in the game to experience the treasure. There are only two options; in or out. There is no third choice.

The decisions we make to keep going won’t come from our discipline. Our discipline will come from our love for God. Our love for God will come from Him (1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”) If we’ll receive His love, we can love Him back. From our love, we’ll choose Him despite the trials that test that love.

Walking this deal out is much more difficult than walking my former deal out ever was. The previous life of unadulterated depravity grounded in my selfishness was easy and required very little sacrifice. My comfort and enjoyment were the treasure, so I could experience the temporary enjoyment of reward by protecting my circumstances and relationships to fit my appetites.

That was temporal and shallow and only lasted as long as the party did. This is rich and forever and difficult as there is typically nothing particularly comfortable about it. This requires death to my selfishness instead of feeding it. That sacrifice is an everyday sacrifice and it never becomes easy, it just becomes more natural. That is, my nature changes.

There is a reward of life in the form of crowns that we get from loving Him. It starts with receiving His love and results in us giving the crowns back to Him. It starts and ends with Him at the cost of me. As upside down and backward as that is to the previous way of thinking, that’s where happiness resides and the party never ends.

True Justice

justiceJustice isn’t always what we think it should be. Our sense of right and wrong won’t always align with what is truly just. At the same time, reasonable minds can differ on what would be just case by case. Almost all civil cases and many criminal cases are negotiated to a compromised agreement prior to a trial because of the variance of what justice may end up looking like.

I’m trained and experienced as an advocate for justice. I stand in the gap with people who need some help getting from a desperate and lonely place to a better outcome. As an advocate, you quickly come to realize that doesn’t mean that you are able to fix all of their problems. Sometimes there are consequences that can’t be avoided. Sometimes reasonable minds differ.

Within Christianity, there are almost constant cries for justice. This is a valid expression of the nature of God expressed in His creation “for the Lord is a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:8). We are practically overcome with the need to make things right, as far as we are able to determine right, and to make them right immediately. There is no appetite for waiting as it relates to justice.

I read how Jesus dealt with the unjust accusations and attempts to entrap Him in Matthew 12, recently. Following an unsuccessful attempt to accuse him (v. 9), He knew they were conspiring further (v. 12) and His reaction was counter-intuitive to the American way. According to Scripture, He withdrew (v. 13). The trust in the Father was so true that Jesus simply disengaged and continued about the Father’s business.

This all fulfilled prophecy from Isaiah 42 and justice from God’s perspective takes on new meaning. From that passage in Isaiah to the fulfillment in Matthew 12 by Jesus of this eternal reality, we can see:

  • True advocacy is anointed of the Spirit of God (Matt 12:18)
  • There is no need for raised voices or quarrelsome debates (v. 19)
  • There is no need to overcome even the weakest adversaries (v. 20)
  • God’s justice will bring hope to many (v. 21)
  • God’s justice will be about Him and His glory (v. 21)

The part of justice that we will never be able to master is found in Matthew 12:20. That passage says that “justice is brought to victory.” The justice of the Lord is one that changes hearts. It will not be reliant on compliance with law, but through the victory that comes with changed hearts. True victory and true justice are accomplished by hearts that are transformed to align themselves with Jesus. He won for us on the Cross and His victory is complete. We don’t need to win anything more for ourselves or others. He won for us.