Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Pocket of Grace

[From 3/28/13]

"Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.  Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place."
(Exodus 9:18-19)

Occasionally I'd wonder about the 10 Plagues.  Remember the ones God inflicted on the Egyptians because the Pharaoh wouldn't let Moses leave with the people?  It always seemed a bit harsh to me.  Why ten?  Couldn't God have accomplished the same result with seven... or five... or three... or even one?  And if it was mostly Pharaoh's stubbornness, why'd the rest of Egypt have to suffer as well?

And then this morning as I was rereading a portion of the passage from Exodus, I saw something I'd never seen before.  It came during plague #7: HAIL.  (Well, technically just before plague #7)  When Mo told the Pharaoh and his advisers what was coming next on the hit list, he gave them an out.  He told them the hail would hit - and if they wanted to save their animals & slaves, they should bring them in from the open field.  "The officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried their slaves & livestock off to a secure place" (v.20).

Now why more didn't heed Mo's warning (after SIX PREVIOUS PLAGUES!!!), I have no idea.  But I found it incredibly compassionate that God gave the Egyptians this out - a minor respite from the divine assaults due to Pharaoh's hardheartedness.  Call it a "pocket of grace," if you will.

I'd wager that God provides tons of "pockets of grace" throughout our lives - if only we'd take the time to notice them.  Heck, it might even save us a bit of heartache.

"We're #1!"

[from 3/26/13]

"May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
(Galatians 6:14)

I love "March Madness."  The NCAA men's tournament has become an annual buffet of basketball beauty!  68 teams vie for the right to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, "We're #1!"  The size of your school doesn't matter.  Your conference doesn't matter.  The only thing that ultimately matters is scoring more points than you opponents for 6 games in a row.  And we in the US go crazy watching it all transpire.

Unfortunately, we're also a culture that sows competition & comparison into all aspects of our life.  We (sometimes subtly and sometimes not) project an image of why "we're #1!" in so many areas.  But then again, maybe that's simply human nature.

Paul understood the dangers of this.  He chose to bypass that quagmire of relational quicksand and focus only on Jesus.  "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."  We're #1 only because of Jesus.  All other boasting, bragging, and attempt to separate ourselves from others can be let go of.  It's all Jesus.

(I wonder how different the Church Universal would be if we - especially pastors - adopted this as our way of life?)

The only thing that counts

[From 3/25/13]

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love."
(Galatians 5:6)

There are fashion trends & popular hair styles that are imitated.  In sports, effective tactics are copied.  Movie themes seem to be recycled over and over again.  The ancient phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun," echoes loudly today!

The early Christian church struggled with imitation.  Did the non-Jewish (ie. Gentile) converts need to be circumcised prior to conversion?  Since all the initial Christians were of Jewish background, this was a real & challenging dilemma. 

The apostle Paul, himself a former Pharisee (staunch conservative Jewish leader), argues for a different question.  Circumcision or not shouldn't even be a concern.  "The only thing that counts is faith working through love."

Wow.  There are a lot of things that people push to the front of the line concerning life axioms.  This one, however, seems to outdistance them all.  The only thing that counts (in our hearts, lives, in the world, etc.) is faith working through love.  How much better would we be if we lived this daily?

The whole city!

[From 3/5/13]

"That evening at sundown, they brought to (Jesus) all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons."
(Mark 1:32-34a)

The whole city was gathered around the door.  It wasn't a world premiere movie.  It wasn't a professional athlete.  It wasn't even the launch of the "iPhone BC."  It was Jesus.  Very early in his ministry, too.  But word had already spread ("fame," as v.28 puts it).  And so they came.  Lots of them.  The whole city.

PR departments might call it a coup (the homeowner might have a few other colorful words to add, however).  But people knew.  Give them credit.  Even early in Jesus' ministry, they knew.  He was different.  Beyond the miracles (which were awesome!), it was his presence & teaching as well that met a need some previously hadn't even known they had.  And so they came.  ALL of them came.

We still need what Jesus has to offer. But rarely do "all" of us come out for anything anymore.  How sad.  Because He's here!  All around us. 

So what'll we do about it?


[From 2/27/13]

"The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth."
(3 John 1)

Most days, when I'm Scripture Journaling, a passage sparks my imagination or spirit because of an idea or teaching. Today, however, it's all about a name: GAIUS.

There's only 1 person I've ever known with that name.  He was my campus minister in college.  Gaius Thede was a UMC pastor, who served the LORD by hanging out with college students.  Gaius looked like Abraham Lincoln, had Lincoln lived into his 60's.  He was full of vim & vigor, grace & understanding, passion & power, and a darn good sense of humor.  He loved God, and was willing to allow space in his faith for new revelation.  In other words, though he was a brilliant theologian, he never came across as a know-it-all.

Though no longer with us in this life, his legacy continues to live on in so many of the college students like myself who were blessed to have known Gaius.  I can echo the words of the writer of 3 John... he is "the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth."  Amen.


Beyond saying, "I Love You!"

[From 2/26/13]

"For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.  And this is the victory that conquers the world: our faith."
(1 John 5:3-4)

Popular romantic novels and romantic comedy films seem to spend a lot of energy around people telling each other that they love another.  Stereotypically, guys have a more difficult time doing this than their female counterparts, but not always.  Saying, "I love you!" has become the pinnacle of romantic expression these days.

When it comes to expressing our love for God, however, the author of 1 John challenges us to go beyond simply saying the words "I love you."  If we want God to know our love - DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!  Obey God's commandments.  Now that might seem a bit overwhelming, when you think about the Bible in its entirety.  But its' not about "fulfilling the law," it's about responding in love.  We're told in 1 John 5 that God's commandments aren't burdensome at all - instead, when we are "of God" (ie. following his commands), we'll conquer the world!  Maybe not in terms of worldly popularity and success... but with a life of meaning... a life worth living!

Lay It Down

[From 2/22/13]

"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord."
(John 10:17-18)

I watched the movie ACT OF VALOR last night.  It received buzz because the main actors were active Navy Seals (rather than professional actors) who portrayed Navy Seals.  It was interesting to see things "from the inside," what this elite group of soldiers go through on assignment.

One of the more dramatic scenes in the film (spoiler alert!) has a soldier intentionally protecting his comrades by throwing himself on a grenade that had been thrown into their area.  he had very little time to think before acting.  he willingly gave up his life for the sake of his friends.  That scene (and many others in the film) was inspired by true events.

No matter how you may feel about the military, you have to admit many of these "get" what Jesus was talking about in John 10.  In their world, being willing to lay down one's life is a CHOICE they make.  It was also a choice Jesus made.  He wasn't "murdered," or "ambushed," or "tragically killed."  No, he willingly laid down his life for a world in need.  It was his choice.  He knew exactly what was happening.  He also knew that death was not the end.  That God had the power to raise the dead - either in this life or in life eternal.

(By the way, John 10 was also inspire by true events.  Praise God!)

Guess who doesn't judge?

[From 2/21/13]

"Jesus answered, 'Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one.'"
(John 8:14-15)

It has been said that the Christian Church today is more known for what we're against than what (or who) we're for.  That's really sad.  REALLY!  Because that wasn't true for Jesus.  He was constantly breaking down barriers & stereotypes amongst his faith community (Judaism).

In John 8, Jesus gets into (another) lengthy argument with the religious leaders.  They're challenging & questioning Jesus' authority... not believing anything he says to them.  He lays it out plain & simple: they judge people left & right.  "I judge no one," Jesus retorts.

In a world where Christianity comes across, in many circles, as being very judgmental, this should stop us in our tracks.  JESUS DOESN'T JUDGE.  Jesus loves... welcomes... embraces... forgives... heals... but he doesn't judge.  So why are we?  As his followers, we need to drop our air of superiority and assume the position of our Master: love.  'Nuff said.