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.

 

God Bless Texas

It’s easier to be in charge than it is to trust and release. We trust our limitations more than we trust the limitless possibilities of what might happen beyond our capacity. Our very nature, in it’s fallen state, is to be sovereign over ourselves and other stuff.

The sovereignty of God is a more complex idea than we might appreciate at a glance. If we really believe that there is a God who is actually God, then that means we can’t be. That realization contradicts our fallen state and requires our submission. No submission = no belief.

Concepts are not belief; choices are. For everything that I control the outcome and withhold my trust, then I remain “g”od where “G”od is ready, willing and able. For everything that I attempt to show Him how much I’ve done for Him, He is a spectator of my futile and temporal jukes towards religion as He waits willing to offer eternity.

The net result is often a life that lives out the Lord’s prayer as follows:

“Our Father, Who is in heaven . . . 1) give us this day our daily bread, 2) forgive us of our flaws and 3) protect us from evil. But just in case, for today until You show that You will actually come through in the way I prefer, I’ll strive to provide for myself by working myself sick and robbing relationships from valuable time. Also, I’ll continue to be expected to be judged by my intentions as others consider me but I’ll evaluate them based on their performance. Finally, I’ll buy lots of guns and stockpile money and build plenty of “wise” safeguards around my suburban existence to ensure that we can still make it to church on Sunday. But I trust You . . . really. Just keep blessing me, because, You know, I’m an American and a Republican and, oh, yeah . . . a Texan. Amen.”

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)

Power and Glory

It seems like everything should be able to fit into a series. A nice, packaged summary of all truth related to a topic and a transition to the next thing seems reasonable. After all, one thing gets boring after a while, doesn’t it? Isn’t it best to move on just to sustain interest?

I haven’t found that to be the case. I haven’t been able to get beyond grace. I got turned upside down during a deep, personal dive into the ramifications of grace about four years ago and I’ve never recovered. I don’t want to, either.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 16-17)

Jesus came to offer us a change. A change of identity and positioning. We were welcomed as adopted children into the Father’s love by the Son. We were invited into His grace if we want to step away from the striving of the law. He would change who we are, how we see things and what increasingly would come out of us. All we have to do is agree.

The time of Jesus’ ministry on earth to the time of His return, which is increasingly imminent, is the time of grace. We are welcomed in and given His right standing (righteousness) with the Father simply by our “yes” to his invitation. It’s been going on for two thousand years and we will know when it’s time to turn the page: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

Until then we enter by His grace, finding a loving Father and a willing Comforter ready to receive us as family. From our place as family and His place within us, the stuff that will come out of us will be inviting of others into His family, as well.

The stuff coming out of us when we are communing with Him is the same thing that invited us in; it will be His grace. His grace through us invites others to commune, too. That’s a message that never ends, until it does, and we’ll know when that is by “power and glory.”

Trusting God . . . or Not

I’d like to say that I trust God, but I wonder if that’s true? If I truly trust Him, why do I experience so much worry, anxiety or fear? Why don’t I just pray and wait when faced with challenges?

Trust is, by definition, “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” With that definition, I must trust God. I firmly believe that God is reliable, true, able and strong so that means I must trust Him, right? Why, then, do I worry and imagine and strive? Maybe another definition is necessary.

The definition of dependence is “the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else.” Uh-oh, I think we’re on to something. Being controlled or even reliant are not appealing qualities to me. They don’t even seem very masculine or responsible. I can’t say that I value those traits very highly. Can I really trust without being dependent?

Allowing God to control me and my outcomes and to rely on His goodness takes faith. I have to believe that His ways are better. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

That’s quite a promise but the conditions are significant. He “rewards” those who “seek” Him. Seeking includes the ideas of searching, figuring it out for one’s self . . . craving. There is a demand in the idea of seeking that suggests until the answer is provided, the search will not cease; not even unto death.

Here’s the trick, I think . . . Hebrews doesn’t say that He rewards those that seek the answers to their problems. It doesn’t say that He fixes things for those that ask for stuff. It says that He rewards those that sincerely seek Him without any “give up” in their inquiry. For those that will seek God for God’s sake unto their own death, He is pleased with them to the point of reward.

When focused on my problems, real or imagined, I don’t seek God nor do I trust Him, nor am I dependent on Him. I want what I want when I want it. He is reduced to a tactic to try to get my way. He is kept at arm’s length for the sake of my primary attention going into the problem solving process to control my outcomes and protect my comfort.

When I seek Him for Him with faith that He exists and can be found, the reward is satisfying no matter the answer of the prayers. When I seek Him unto the death of me, the stuff in my life is secondary to the eternal hope and satisfaction found in the intimacy of finding Him.

Do I trust God? Sometimes.

Do you?

The Cost of Ministry

I have a friend who is the most talented salesperson and one of the most gifted minds in business that I have ever known. He has the capacity to make money with seemingly effortless ease. He also has struggled personally to an extreme that is rare and, in the middle of it all loves Jesus and pursues God as fervently as anyone I know. From that place of ability, struggle, relationship and pursuit, there appears to be an invitation from God for this friend to step into ministry.

“Ministry,” by definition, is service to others. In this context, that service is related to eternal things grounded in the Word of God. That calling, to serve, doesn’t require special schools or a job at a 501(c)3, as 2 Corinthians 5 makes clear. In that chapter, Paul teaches that once we are reconciled to Christ, we are ministers of reconciliation. It isn’t dependent on a profession, but a relationship.

In the unfolding of this calling, my friend called me in tears. The tears come from the pain of dying to himself. What God is doing within him requires that any pride and any needs for attention or affirmation from the service of reconciliation must die. He has realized that the reason God is talking to him about that is because it needs to be talked about when he considers himself.

Ministry will eat you up. A desire to serve without the ongoing death of your soul will pervert your service. It will be a service to needs for the filling of your voids instead of in submission to the purposes of Jesus. What God was doing with and in my friend is a favor to my friend and a requirement of true service. It can’t be about us, or it wasn’t ministry in the first place because it wasn’t about serving.

Our soul has wants and needs that will be satisfied in the grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit fills us and fills us again. The grace of Jesus will lead us to the love of the Father and that love is a perfect satisfier. That perfect love fills us and affirms us and satisfies temporal voids with eternal relationship. The shortcut can be ministry.

If we serve others in their effort or need to be reconciled to the Father through the Son, they often times will ascribe value to us in the process. They will affirm the “anointing” or gifts of the servant. If there is anything in the minister’s soul that feeds, it can stir an addictive cycle of attention seeking in Jesus name.

Want to serve? Have to die first. Want to minister? It will cost you everything, starting with yourself. You’ll never regret it but if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable then you are probably missing it.

 

Choose Forgiveness or Swallow the Bitter Poison

There are two choices; forgive or grow bitter. There is no such word as “unforgiveness,” there is only forgiveness given or bitterness fostered. Remember anybody along the way that someone else said, “they are just a bitter old man?” Likely, if true, it’s because they chose not to forgive somewhere along the way.

Catch that? “Chose” not to forgive. Nothing about their feelings. Forgiveness isn’t an emotion; it’s a choice. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt; in fact, hurt is almost always present if/when forgiveness is called for. Forgiveness comes as a choice in the face of hurt. Or bitterness.

Bitterness is validated by justice. When considering what someone did which was hurtful or offensive, it is typically not difficult to formulate a solid strategy and monologue supporting their conviction. We all become trial attorneys. Based on our supporting evidence, we find you guilty and in fact, it’s often true. So the self-argued and self-decided guilty verdict results in a sentence of nothing for the other person and bitterness for us. Poison.

They offered Jesus the poison, the bitter gall, on the Cross. He could have taken it and it would have eased His pain but He didn’t swallow it. He wasn’t on the cross to get even; He was on the Cross to give grace. He wasn’t there to perpetuate justice; He was there to satisfy it. He chose instead, “Forgive them, Father . . . ”

Making the case and holding onto the offense is satisfying for a moment. It satisfies our soul’s desire for justice at the cost of our spirit’s need for grace. It fosters toxins that give us the illusion of vindication but actually starts the erosion of our character from the agitating effects of bitterness.

It’s not an emotion; you can’t wait until it feels better because it’s needed in triage at the diagnosis or hurt. In fact, that same choice to forgive may have to be made over and over through lingering hurt from a single offense. It may have to be multiplied 7 times 70 or so.

The best part is that you don’t really have to manufacture it; there is a Source that will give it to you. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” gives us the “how to.” Remember and appropriate the grace that you have received and continue to need. Then, give it away to others.