• Power and Love On the Cross

    One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 39-43

    Over the years I have heard this interaction between Jesus and the thief on the cross explained mostly as a demonstration of power. Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus has the power to defeat death. Jesus has the power to secure salvation from hell fires to those who recognize him. Even as he was dying on the cross, I have been told, Jesus was demonstrating his great power!

    And I suppose there’s some truth to all of that, so far as it goes. But I can’t help thinking that most of those who point to this interaction as a display of power are missing what actually happened here. Jesus’ didn’t tell the thief who defended him that he was going to be with him in paradise that day in order to demonstrate his power. At least not in the way we often think of it.

    What Jesus really did was give a man facing an inevitable, excruciating death the only comfort anyone could give to someone in that situation. “It won’t last too long,” he says, “and it will be OK when it’s done.” As the man suffered his trial of crucifixion, how many times did he repeat Jesus’ assurances to himself? How much easier was that man’s death because of Jesus’ words to him? And I can’t help but wonder if as the thief on his other side suffered, if he did not turn his hope towards Jesus’ words as well.

    When all you can do is endure pain and suffering, this is really the only comfort anyone can offer: it’s not going to last forever and everything will be wonderful when it’s done. The power Jesus displayed was the willingness and ability to show love and offer comfort, even in the midst of his own suffering. May we all strive to be so powerful.

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    Dancing The Way

    How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

    Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions are might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading

  • THIS

    This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is June 2014. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. I’m just repeating things God has made clear to those who put trust in his word. You know, all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument:

    God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in people who will make any sacrifice imaginable to protect the Christian faith but refuse to be moved by the site of despair all around them. Who claim that their way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

    Really they are just refusing to be broken by the site of God’s suffering children. What kind of father is happy that his kid claims to be sweeping the floor as they’ve been asked while listening as their brother begs them to stop hitting him with a broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed. One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading

  • The Christian Gospel

    God the Father is Love as the one who encompasses all that is expressed in the created universe.

    God the Holy Spirit is Love as it interacts with the created universe.

    God the Son is Love experiencing the created universe in human form.

    Jesus shows us the power of a man who relies on God the Holy Spirit to know God the Father and discovers that he is one with the Father. He now asks us, his Bride, follow the Way of the Son, relying on the Holy Spirit in order that we would know God, in whose image we were made. Jesus showed us what we look like. The Holy Spirit tell us what we act like. God tells us who we are.

    The path is narrow, although easy enough to follow. You just have to follow Jesus’ words. It’s the path of the cross, however, because it means suffering the loss of whatever you take your life from that isn’t Love. Which, until Jesus returns is everything. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to take possession of you, you will never make it, so long as humanity, by and large, is unaware of the reality of who they are as image bearers.

    In the end times, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth will be joined in the hearts of the people who have discovered the holy of holies that is their innermost being. And when they come together, the Golden City will be born. It’s light will cover the surface of the whole world and all mankind will seek to join in the wedding party. Which will be the final defeat of the false idols of this world that torment and oppress suffering mankind.

    The church cries out, “come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

    Jesus whispers back, “Just as soon as you show yourself, my bride.”

     

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    “Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us”

    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”  ~ Mark 9:38-40

    I have long thought that we Christians would do well to embrace any and all who walk and work on the side of love, regardless of their theology, religion or ideology. God is love and love is what’s left in the end and it never fails, so why not? Why should I not stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with anyone who is on the side of love, regardless of what else we disagree with? Whoever is not against us is for us, right?

    Unfortunately, the church has long chosen to embrace this idea from the opposite side of the coin. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying, “whoever is not for us is against us.” This saying has often been used to reject those who, while perhaps sharing the same devotion to love, are not actively for Christianity. And not only those who are not actively for Christianity, but for the same peculiar form of Christianity.

    This is how we end up with the bizarre spectacle of atheist volunteers being turned away from helping at Christian soup kitchens. Or one group of Christians denouncing another, apparently equally devout group of Christians. It’s how we have so many supposed leaders who are able to convince their followers to see the world in “us vs them” terms. “If you’re not for us, you are against us.”

    But look at the context for Jesus saying “if you are not for us, you are against us”. In both Matthew and Luke, it is spoken in response to people who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus responds by saying:

    “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

    Now, the first, obvious point that Jesus is making here is about unity. A house that is divided against itself will fall. Satan knows this, but the people of God need to be taught it.

    Beyond that, there’s this somewhat odd bit about a strong man and his house that is often misunderstood. Usually when Jesus speaks of a powerful man like a king or a landowner, he is alluding to God. However, in this case, the strong man is not God, but Beelzebul. What Jesus is saying is that the devil is like a strong man who has been bound up so that his house can be plundered.

    In the early church, it was universally accepted that when Jesus died on the cross, he descended into hell, wrested the keys of death from Satan and plundered his house, taking with him into heaven the souls held prisoner there. This was what Jesus was sent to do: to set the prisoner free and lift oppression.

    Of course, when he tells this story, Jesus has not yet been crucified. Yet here he is already plundering the strong man’s house and taking back those who were possessed by him. Which is why Jesus goes on to say:

    “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

    Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus is preparing for the ultimate victory over the strongman who holds humanity captive. It is the Holy Spirit who has bound up the strong man, so that Jesus can begin the plunder of his house. The accusation that Jesus was working for the strong man was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it failed to recognize the power of God at work.

    The reason Jesus says that this sin will not be forgiven is simply because if you do not recognize your Savior’s voice or the hand of God at work, you will not respond to it.

    If you cannot tell the power of God from the power of the devil, how will you be saved? You will turn away from God and towards Satan without even knowing what you are doing. If you are as blind as the Pharisees, you could die and be in the presence of the Holy One and be repulsed by the source of all that is good, thinking it is evil.

    Which is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can’t be forgiven. Forgiveness must be accepted in order to bear fruit, but if you reject the forgiveness God offers because you mistake God for Satan, how can you benefit from it?

    So, it is in this context that Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.” What he is saying is that anyone who is not with him – recognizing the hand of God and the work of the Holy Spirit when they see it – is against him. Anyone who sees the work of the Holy Spirit and instead of celebrating it, rejects it is against Jesus.

    Labeling someone as against us due to differences in doctrine, religion and ideology is foolish in the extreme. As Jesus says in John’s gospel:

    “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    The Spirit moves as it will. It will not be contained by human minds, beliefs and expectations. Failing to recognize the Spirit when it is at work ought to be considered far more dangerous than the possibility that those we associate with may not be pure or righteous enough.

    Notice that those who are with Jesus gather, while those who against him scatter. Jesus and his followers are tasked with gathering up the harvest. It is the job of Jesus’ followers to recognize the Spirit moving and claim the harvest for Jesus regardless of where the harvest appears. After all, as with the landowner in the parable of the talents, God “reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he scattered no seed.” The whole harvest belongs to God.

    It is the enemy who scatters and sows division. When we use Jesus’ teaching that “whoever is not for us is against us” to divide between “us and them”, “believer and non-believer”, “orthodox and heretic” and so on, we are playing the role of the one who scatters. Rather than gathering the harvest, we are rejecting it and throwing it aside as not good enough, not pure enough and not holy enough. Which is exactly what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit looks like.

    So, how are we to avoid rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit? Well, we can go back to what Jesus said about those who were casting out demons in his name: “whoever is not against us is for us”. If someone is driven by love, they are for us. If someone wants more peace, joy, patience, justice, mercy and grace in the world, they are for us. Even if they are, as the disciples put it “not one of us”. After all, the Spirit moves where it will. And it is our job to gather the harvest, claiming it for the one who is the source of all good things.

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    Three Sinful Paths

    Let’s say that you are a new Christian, earnest and eager to follow the narrow path and repent of sin and all its damaging consequences. Which is a good goal. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for sin mean to miss the mark. The mark being union with God. Since union with God is the full fruit of redemption and sin means missing that fruit, avoiding sin is a worthwhile goal. But how to do that?

    Well, in general, there are three paths you can take. One will take you to God. One will take you destruction. And one will get you somewhere between the two. Allow me to explain these paths and you see if you can pick out which is which.

    The first path is one favored by many in the church. It is to identify sin and target it for elimination. It may mean that you refrain from engaging in worldly activities like drinking, swearing, watching questionable movies, hanging out with friends who are up to no good and the like. Perhaps you get involved in a small group or pursue relationships with more mature Christians as a way of building accountability for yourself.

    This path does have its uses, particularly for those who are new to the faith. When a person converts to Christianity, it means adopting a new identity and with it, a new way of life. If your old identity was grounded in being a promiscuous partier who was known for your outrageous antics, it may be necessary to swear off those old behaviors in order to make room for your new identity in Christ.

    The danger of this path is that identifying and eliminating sin can become the way you live out your faith and the basis of your Christian identity. Those on this path are too often the public face of the church, defined by what it is vocally against. In fact, the church has no end of self appointed gatekeepers for whom a willingness to identify and target sin for elimination is synonymous with being a faithful Christian. They think they are protecting the church when really all they are doing is attempting to lock everyone in the nursery. Continue reading

  • adameve

    Adam and Eve and When It All Went Wrong

    Well, it’s been a while since we dropped in on our friends Adam and Eve in the garden. So I figured I might as well make it a week of weird and tell y’all what I’ve been thinking/figuring out about them.

    For those of you who don’t know, I have a wee bit of an obsession with the creation stories and the story of the fall. In fact, if it were possible to make money off meditating on them, I would be writing this from a beach in Fuji instead of on a computer with vacuum tubes in a spare bedroom that looks it hasn’t been cleaned in 2 months (because it hasn’t).

    The reason I am so obsessed with these stories is because they seem to hold the key to understanding what is wrong with our relationships with each other, God and creation. Once you stop reading them as either the worst history book ever written or a fairy tale just-so story and taking them seriously, you discover that they are a lot like a puzzle. And I’m one of those people who plays soduku to relax. I like puzzles.

    Anyhow, last spring I wrote a short series about a vision/dreamy sort of thingy I was given about what happened at the fall. Which if you may want to check out. The big take-away from the whole thing was that the fall wasn’t actually our fault. It was more like the world’s worse act of abuse against a couple of kids. If you think I’m full of it or want to know more, you can go read the posts on the subject. They’re short, we can wait:

    What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Doing in the Garden?

    The Fall Wasn’t Our Fault

    Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions

    So What Happened to Adam and Eve Anyhow?

    Now if I haven’t scared you off, today I want to discuss the relationship between Adam and Eve. As I’ve said before (and as Ireneus and a few other early church fathers said), Adam and Eve were children. Little children.

    Adam was made first. Adam is the Hebrew word for man or mankind. It’s used thousands of times in the Hebrew OT to mean man or mankind. So when we talk about Adam, we are talking about a character who represents mankind as a whole, not necessarily about one specific individual. (Remember, mankind is one.)

    Eve is formed later as a subset of mankind. Still a part of mankind, but defined by her gender. Eve is like a little sister to Adam. Consider that it is Adam who named the animals, received instructions from God, went looking for a partner, etc. Adam even got to name Eve.

    So Adam would have been much like a big brother, showing his little sister around, telling her what things were called, explaining the rules, etc. Anyone who has ever seen a preschooler with a toddler sibling knows exactly what I am talking about here. A little kid enjoying being in charge and showing off what he knows for an admiring younger sibling.

    I’ve written before about a small detail from the story of the fall which is normally overlooked, but I think is important. When Adam and Eve were standing by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the snake approaches them, Eve says something untrue. She tells the serpent that not only can they not eat the fruit of the tree, but they are not even allowed to touch it. It’s a little detail that points to the fact that perfection, as we think of perfection, did not exist even before the fall. Which makes sense; God had declared the earth “good” and Adam and Eve “very good”. We’re the ones who made up this idea that it was perfect.

    So, where did Eve get this idea that they weren’t allowed to touch the tree? Perhaps she made it up and was just lying. Or perhaps it was what her big brother Adam had told her. It’s totally the sort of thing a big brother would do. (I once had my little sister convinced that clouds moving across the sky showed how fast the earth was turning. Because I wanted to impress her with my great understanding of the workings of the earth, of course.)

    God had given Adam one little rule to follow. It’s very easy to imagine that as a big brother, earnestly taking his responsibilities very seriously and feeling very important, he had instructed Eve, “see that fruit over there? God says we can’t eat it or we will die. We can’t even touch the tree it’s so dangerous!” He exaggerated a bit. Who doesn’t exaggerate from time to time? (My computer does not have vacuum tubes, by the way.) Especially when we’re trying to impress someone?

    So Adam and Eve are standing by the tree. Maybe Adam’s showing off how brave he is to get so close to the dangerous tree. And the snake, who knows damn well that he has no business messing with them comes by to chat. And let’s just say that perhaps, as they are talking a breeze goes by and a branch moves and a bit of fruit brushes against Eve. Who doesn’t die.

    And the snake says, “You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    Eve at this point is perhaps aware that her brother may have been doing what big brothers do and scared her in order to impress her. She didn’t die from touching the fruit. Perhaps eating it wasn’t so scary either. It was pretty. What little girl doesn’t like pretty things? And God had given the garden to them to eat from. Plus, the fruit was useful for gaining wisdom. If she was wise, then she wouldn’t be the little kid her brother could trick.

    Adam is standing there silently. Perhaps he heard Eve repeat his harmless lie and had some idea that he had made a mistake in telling her they couldn’t touch the fruit. Perhaps he had some vague awareness that he had been caught; that Eve knew he had lied to her. But I have had a child tell me “I didn’t stand on the coffee table” while they were standing on the coffee table. Little kids aren’t exactly know for their willingness to admit that they did something wrong.

    So Eve eats the fruit and hands it to Adam. Adam has just watched his Eve, who God made just for him, who would be the mother of all adam, sign her own death sentence. All he had meant was to keep Eve safe and maybe impress her a bit. He was the big brother and being a big brother comes with responsibilities. So Adam does just what a good man would do in that situation and bravely took a bite of the fruit Eve handed him. If she was going to die, he would go with her.

     

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    And Now For Something Weird in the End Times

    In today’s edition of signs of the end times, we’re going to talk about vanity, the anitchrist, lion’s teeth and Marian apparitions. Among other things. Because part of my calling is to make your brains hurt. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! And fun is good until somebody pokes an eye out. But I promise I’ll be careful not to poke your eye out.

    So, about 10 years ago, my dear Catholic mother sent me a book called For the Soul of the Family. It’s the story of a woman named Estela Ruiz, a woman who began experiencing visitations from Mary back in 1989 and her family. Marian apparitions are one of those things that I deliberately choose to neither accept or reject. They could be true or they could be false, who knows?

    Over the years, I’ve read accounts of quite a few Marian apparitions and come to the following conclusions:

    1. Like all mothers, Mary repeats herself a lot. Seriously. Her motto might as well be “if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”

    2. Like all mothers, Mary is really worried about her kids and absolutely certain that terrible things are going to happen to them if they don’t stop what they are doing and start listening to her.

    3. Mary thinks we need to spend a lot more time praying.

    So, one of the things I remember from this particular book that my mom sent me is that Mary supposedly told Estela that TV was the antichrist. And I think she said movies are too. Which sounds crazy, of course. But consider this; there is a long tradition in Christian thought which says that Jesus is the model of the true man. Like, if we want to know what human beings are meant to look, act and be like, we should look to Jesus.

    Media, on the other hand, has long presented us with a false, often idealized, exaggerated picture of how human beings look, live and behave. And it does affect how we think about ourselves and each other. It’s a powerful force in shaping our ideas about what is normal, desirable and acceptable. You could say that where Jesus is a picture of man as he truly is, media shows us a false picture of who mankind is. Which you could say makes it the anti (as in against or opposed to or opposite of) Christ.

    So, the claim that TV is the antichrist is crazy, but not entirely implausible. I’m not saying you should all go throw out your TVs, except it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. :p

    Anyhow, one of the most problematic aspects of TV and movies is that the people they show us are tend to all be very attractive. Which is nice to look at, but in real life only about 1 in 5 people is actually all that good looking. Once upon a time it, there was nothing particularly wrong with being plain or dowdy or even just ugly, but today pretty much every ugly woman in America has been told at some point that she should not be inflicting her ugliness on the rest of us by going out in public. I have heard people say that they were too ashamed to go shopping or to meet new people because they are fat.

    Of course, being attractive doesn’t make you good, kind, loving, generous, clever, creative, interesting or any other worthwhile thing. It doesn’t even mean you’d be particularly good in bed, for pity’s sake! It just means your features grew in a symmetrical way. That’s it. But we are obsessed with it.

    I know, I know, people have always been obsessed with beauty, right? Sure. Except here’s a coin with Cleopatra’s face on it:

    Here’s what Hollywood said she looked like:

    Notice the difference? Because it’s not enough to be powerful, charming and intelligent. A woman worth admiring must first and foremost be stunning with high cheekbones and purple eyes. Or how about this picture from South Korea where plastic surgery is the #1 graduation gift year after year:

    Those are 18 different women. They all look the same because there is one ideal look for women in South Korea to have and since you are expected to send in a picture with your job applications, you may be unemployable if you don’t look like that.

    Perhaps you don’t view this as particularly alarming because humans have always gone to extremes in order to be attractive. The Chinese deformed their daughters feet. Some South American tribes wear spikes through their faces. There’s that one African tribe that puts giant plates in their lips and ear lobes. Which is all true, except none of those practices required you to be born looking like that. If you were a Chinese woman with a face like Methuselah and teeny, tiny feet, you were hot. We, on the other hand, aren’t just going to extremes to adorn ourselves with beauty. We have basically gone to war against our bodies for daring to grow with bumps and lumps and eyelids.

    At this point, some of you are thinking, “OK Rebecca, our fixation on looks is unhealthy and unkind. And I promise to never again walk around Walmart offering paper bags and tent sized mumus to the ugly people I meet there. But what on earth does all of this have to do with the end times?!?!”

    Well, I’m so glad you asked. And here’s where I’m going to get extra weird with you. If you go to the book of Revelation, in the middle of all the seals being broken and disaster being unleashed, there’s one particular pit that spews forth an unusual hoard of locusts. These locusts are described as having the shape of horses and as wearing what appeared to be crowns of gold on their heads. Further it says, “their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”

    In addition to their peculiar looks, these locust could only hurt men, not any other part of the earth. And they couldn’t kill men, but instead caused a painful sting like that of a scorpian that went away in time, but was bad enough to make people wish for death.

    Admit it, those are some mighty fine teeth.

    Now, I readily admit that this is an entirely speculative reading of the passage, but I believe that this is a figurative description of the destructive vanity which has overtaken mankind. The long hair and the lion’s teeth. Do you have any idea how much we spend on cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, hair care and the like? Billions. And those things on their heads that “appeared to be like crowns of gold” sound an awful lot like the figurative halos we see our favorite Hollywood golden girls and boys wearing.

    Plus the effects of these locusts fit. The only part of creation affected by our fixation on looks are human beings. And it’s not fatal, but the rejection people experience when they are judged by themselves or others as not attractive enough hurts. Sometimes it hurts because of eating disorders or the pain of plastic surgery. But sometimes it’s just the pain of being rejected. Did you know that the same parts of our brain that process physical pain also process  pain from being rejected? When we insult someone for being unattractive, we might as well just walk up and slug them as far as our brain’s concerned. And even Americans know that it’s not OK to punch people for not looking like Brangelina.

    Now, in Revelation, people are protected from the sting of the vanity locusts if they “have the seal of God on their forehead”. So that means no credit cards. No wait, that can’t be right. OK, so it means you shouldn’t let President Obama give you an obamacare RFID chip implant. No, no, that can’t be it either. Wait, I’ve got it! How about we assume that it means having a mind set on the things of God:

    For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . ~ Romans 8:5-7

    There we go. That makes more sense. If you are concerned with the things of God, you will not be affected by the torments which come with having a mind set on the flesh.

    So, today’s lesson is that in the end times, our vanity will be used to torment and torture us and everyone else, unless we refuse to play along. So, let that armpit hair grow, ladies. Embrace your moobs, fellows. And maybe, just maybe, you should pay a little more attention to your mother Mary. She’s worried about you. :)

  • Sleep Tight Under the Stars

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Psalm19:1

    See that? It’s a picture of a tiny patch of empty space taken by the Hubble Telescope. And all those things are galaxies. Galaxies! Not just one star, but bilions in each one. Can you imagine?

    I look at something like this and wonder,”what in the world is this all about?” What is God doing, creating so much? One galaxy would seem to be enough. Or 100 or 1000. But that’s tens of thousands of galaxies and there are billions more. Why? What is God doing? Is there a reason for all of this or is the reason just the joy of creating and exploring creation that God desires? Is it a desure for beauty or a complex puzzle to enjoy? How many children does our God have? It boggles the mind.

    And how absurd that anyone who would attempt to claim to understand God. Looking at just a small glimpse of what God has made, how can we even understand man? What can it possibly mean to bear the image of the one who has created all of this? What is life in the middle of all this?

    After a while, the little girl in me can’t help but turn to her daddy and say, “look what you did! It’s so beautiful! I can’t believe you made all that! You did so good, Pappa!”

    (You can read more about the technical aspects of making this picture and what you’re seeing here.)

  • Jesus and the Rich Young Man

    Jesus’ Gift to a Young Rich Man

    As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

    I remember years ago hearing someone say that morals are for rich people. Which I didn’t understand. I mean, I can understand how a lack of money could drive you to stealing or fraud. But otherwise, why would morals be optional for people just because they didn’t have money? You don’t need money to be a good person, after all.

    I, of course, still don’t think that poor people don’t have morals and that morals are for people with money. But what I have come to understand two things. First, that having good morals does not make you a good person. I know plenty of people who never break any of the 10 commandments and are terrible people. The second thing I’ve learned is that it takes much more to hang onto morality when you are already depleted by a ridiculously stressful life.

    When there’s no comfort or pleasure in your life, it’s much harder to turn away from the comfort found in the arms of someone you are not in a covenant relationship with. When your mother and father were so desperate and depleted by the time that they came home, that they lashed out at you, it’s much harder to honor them than it is when you have a mom who greets you after school with a plate of cookies and a smile and a dad who wants to play catch in the yard after work while you tell him about your day. When a shady mortgage broker has defrauded you and you’ve lost your home and are living out of a cheap motel room, it’s much harder to convince yourself to stick to the rules just on principle. Life’s just different when you’re just struggling to survive.

    While we may admire the upstanding, morally sound, financially comfortable person, the truth is that many of those people wouldn’t have held up any better under trying circumstances than anyone else. Which is part of why we can’t judge people. Only God knows the heart. And sometimes even a good heart gets overwhelmed, depleted and despairs. Which isn’t an excuse for immorality, but it is an explanation. God knows this.

    The thing is that while we see morality as something that is just expected of us, it was given as something to struggle with. We’re actually meant to fail at it. In Romans, Paul says, “through the law we become conscious of our sin.” If we can follow the law, without fail, then the law is not having the effect God intends it to have in our lives.

    Now, does this mean that God has set us up for failure so that he can then show up and play the super-hero who graciously saves us? I can certainly understand why someone would think that. However, this isn’t the case. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains about the law, “therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

    As Brene Brown says, “we are wired for struggle.” The law was meant to cause us to struggle. It is in struggling that we learn, grow and change. Struggle is like weightlifting for the soul. It tears us down and builds up back up, shaping us in the process. By placing demands on us that we will struggle and fail to meet, the law becomes our teacher, showing us the way towards Christ.

    If we never fail, we don’t need forgiveness. If we never rebel, we don’t need grace. If we never fall under our heavy load, we don’t need our burdens lifted. If we never rail against an unfair world and a seemingly uncaring God, we don’t need comfort. If we have no need of forgiveness, grace, burdens lifted or comfort, then we have no need for God. We all need God. But without struggling, we will never know just how much. Nor will we understand the value of what God has to offer us.

    When Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he’s not saying that rich people are worse people than everyone else. That they love money more than everyone else. Or that they care less about other people than everyone else. He says that it’s harder for rich people because the whole point of wealth is to protect us from struggles. The whole point of the law is to cause us to struggle. Which is why money and following God are so often in conflict.

    Now, consider what Jesus does in his interaction with the young rich man. When the young man approaches, Jesus starts by disarming him. “Only God is good.” If the point of the law is to follow it, then those who are good at following it are completely justified in thinking that they are themselves good. But if only God is good and even Jesus refuses to accept that descriptor, then this young man knows he cannot stand on his own goodness. We are not good because of our morality, but any goodness we have comes from our connection with the one who is good – God alone.

    Jesus then brings up the commandments in order to draw out the young man’s relationship with them. When the young man responds that he has kept to them from his youth, we see the problem; he’s never struggled. Sure, he may have faced temptation. But he’s never had to struggle with the law to the point of failure. Which means that the law has not had the intended effect in his life.

    The story says that Jesus looked at this young man who has sought righteousness the only way he knew how and loved him. Jesus loves us all, of course. But he looked at this young man in particular and saw something in him that he loved in that moment. I suspect that what he saw was a young man who had done all of the right things and yet knew somehow that it was inadequate. Something in him knew that he needed more than to keep to the commandments in order to attain what he sought.

    He could have gone to the Pharisees and asked them what he needed to do and explained that he kept to the commandments and always had. They would have been happy to tell him that he was right with God, especially in light of the financial support his family provided to the religious establishment. But he didn’t. For whatever reason, he sought Jesus. Which, oddly enough, is exactly what the law is supposed to do – lead us to Jesus.

    So Jesus looked at this young man and loved him for whatever was in him that knew he was lacking. And he says, “sell all you own and give it away.”

    Jesus knows perfectly well that he’s asking this young man to do something he cannot do. It wasn’t just love of money, comfort and security that made it impossible for this young man to do as Jesus instructs. It would have been terribly destructive and irresponsible for him to sell everything and give it away. It would have meant casting his entire family into the streets, for one thing.

    Jesus had other followers who were wealthy. He never asks any of them to sell everything to follow him. But he loved this young man and so gave to him what the law could not – something to struggle with.