Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Love & Hope & Sitcoms

(Contains spoilers for the season 8 finale of “How I Met Your Mother.” In fact, I talk a lot about the show in general. If that bores you...oh well, it's my blog!)

I’ve been watching “How I Met Your Mother” from the first episode, and I was absolutely thrilled with the conclusion of ‘Something New,’ the Season 8 finale. So much so that, within eight hours of airing, I'd watched the full episode twice, and the ending reveal two more times. (And then another two after work) I told one of my roommates, who is a season behind, that the ending is worth the wait. And not him waiting to buy the DVD when it comes out, but worth my wait, eight years invested in the show.

I identify quite a bit with Ted. Granted, in a lot of ways we're very different, with different experiences. But as I watch the show, I find myself dealing with a lot of the same troubles, asking a lot of the same questions. I'm also single, past the age where I wanted to be married, watching my friends all getting married, even clinging to certain possibilities long after they moved on from me. (Although, at 8 years pining for Robin, Ted does have me beat.) We’ve both had career struggles, difficulties finding direction, and, at times, we’ve begun to lose hope that we’ll ever meet this elusive woman.

So it shouldn't be too big of a shock for me to say that I almost feel my romantic fate is somehow connected to Ted's. I realize that a tv show really has no bearing on my life happenings, but that doesn't keep me from feeling that something big is just around the corner. And not just for Ted. True, I have gone and looked up Cristin Milioti's picture a few times since last night, and one time watching her reveal, I started to tear up, imagining the first time I look at my bride-to-be, knowing who she is.

I'm sure that the connection is all in my head, and within a year, I'm in for either a letdown, or a big crazy random happenstance that it all plays out. I keep looking at the circumstances of the show, and so much of it gives me encouragement - Stella's speech about how Ted's love is coming "as fast as she can," Ted's monologue to his future wife, neither of them realizing they're only 45 days away from meeting. Even as we watch now both characters, hours from meeting each other, both are going in blindly - their worlds are about to collide, and change, and neither has any idea. Both are coming from a place of pain (Ted watching his ex girlfriend marry his best friend, and the "girl with the yellow umbrella" was in a relationship 42 days earlier, we don't know if that's ended or not), but the paths they've been on all this time are finally converging, and they're none the wiser.

Which gets me thinking - I could be 45 days from meeting the love of my life. Or 56 hours. Or 2 years. All I know is that God has promised me she's out there and, just like Stella said, "she's coming as fast as she can."

It gives me hope. And hope is worth holding onto.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

God is Love

1 Corinthians 13
 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I didn’t really set out to start a series here, but after last week’s talk about what God hates, I wanted to look at another part of His nature: God is love.

There’s a song by Jeremy Riddle called “Furious” that describes the love of God like this:
  His Love is deep, His Love is wide, and it covers us
  His Love is fierce, His Love is strong, it is furious
  His Love is sweet, His love is wild, and it’s waking our hearts to life

God’s love is limitless. There’s no point where His love runs out. 1 Corinthians 13:8 tells us that love never fails. That’s the ‘agape’ love, the love He has for each of us, and that John is talking about when he tells us “Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7)

Just a few verses before, in 1 Corinthians 13 4-7, Paul lists a series of characteristics of love. This list is often recited at weddings, but it’s not just talking about romantic love, it’s talking about the agape love. I’ve heard that a good barometer for judging where you are is to insert your own name into the list. “Matt is patient, Matt is kind…” and see how well you measure up. But everything Paul says about love applies to God, because God is love. (I freely admit now, some of these worked out a lot better than others. Don’t get me wrong, all are true, I just had an easier time explaining some of them so they made sense.)

God is patient.
We’ve mentioned that God is a God of second chances. (And someone will invariably start adding “and third, and fourth…”) He sees the best in us. He wants us to succeed, and as long as we’re willing to pick ourselves back up, He’s willing to give us more opportunities to do so.

God is kind.
I’ve heard God described by some who are disillusioned with the church as ‘sky bully.’ Even we as Christians have this idea that God’s going to smite us if we step out of line. But He’s not like that at all. His mercy endures forever. It outlasts all of our pity parties or rebellious streaks. There’s nothing that will separate us from His love.

God does not envy.
He owns the cattle of a thousand hills and paves His streets with gold. Who does He have to be envious of?

God does not boast, He is not proud.
Even after creating everything that exists, He simply responds with ‘it is good.’ We even see in Genesis 2:18 that God isn’t ashamed to say “I can do better” when there’s more to be done.

He does not dishonor others.
We always see God giving words of encouragement. Even when He’s delivering bad news, there’s some sort of hope attached.

He is not self-seeking.
God doesn’t look out for Himself. Simply put, He’s perfection – he doesn’t need looking out for. Instead, He watches out for us. Encouraging, guiding, sometimes disciplining, but always for good cause.

He is not easily angered.
See above, where we talked about ‘patient’ and ‘kind.’ Even where we see God’s wrath enacting, it was a reaction to long standing circumstances, and after numerous warnings.

He keeps no record of wrongs.
When we take our shortcomings to God, He casts them into the sea of forgetfulness and remembers them no more. There’s another song, this one by The Waiting, called “How Do You Do That?” The bridge goes:
  You know the hairs on my head, and You named every star
  But I’m bowing my knee at how forgetful You are
It’s not that God forgets all this stuff like we forget where we put our keys. No, God chooses to forget. When we give it to Him, it’s like it doesn’t even exist anymore. 
God does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
God’s holiness cannot abide evil, and He Himself is the truth.

He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Our God is forever faithful.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the gold standard in love. The highest bar that could ever be set. On our own, we have no hope of measuring up. But here’s the best part, we can let God love through us, and that’s when we’re at our best.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What God Hates

I was reading this week about the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist Church’s “protests” at the funerals of soldiers. I’m not going to get into the politics of whether it was the right decision or not, but it grieves my spirit that these people claim to speak on behalf of my God. Instead of speaking words of life, words of encouragement, they spew hate-filled bile. In 2007, they spent $200,000 flying to funerals of soldiers and celebrities spreading, in their own words, “God’s hate.”

This idea unsettles me. Yes, God is a Holy God, He cannot abide sin. But God doesn’t hate any person. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:14 “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Taking it a step further, John tells us “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:8)

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 6:16-19 about seven (and only) seven things that God hates. Here are the "six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion” (MSG)
  1. haughty eyes/a proud look
     Simply put, thinking that you’re better than someone else. It’s only by God’s grace that any of us isn’t as bad, or worse, than the worst of the worst. A proud look implies you think you don’t need a savior. Romans 3:23 tells us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The first step on the road to salvation is admitting you need a savior.
  2. a lying tongue,
     One of the top ten. For many of us, this is the first sin we commit. No, I didn’t eat any cookies. Tommy broke the lamp, not me. And it’s socially acceptable. The movie Liar, Liar is all about a man who lies constantly, but has to tell nothing but the truth for 24 hours. But it shows us all these situations where we “have” to lie, and it’s completely accepted. But lies build distrust. If you lied to me once, how do I know you won’t do it again? Or that you haven’t already?
  3. hands that shed innocent blood,
     Also in the top ten. But a slight variation. God says ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but sometimes He would allow the army of Israel to wipe people out. David killing Goliath was not shedding innocent blood. David killing Uriah (albeit indirectly) certainly was. Remember, anything we do to the ‘least of these,’ we do to God.
  4. a heart that devises wicked schemes,
     This is anything that hurts someone else for personal gain, even if that personal gain is nothing more than smug satisfaction. We see it often in the Bible: Haman and Mordecai, Joseph and his brothers, Ahab, Jezebel, and Naboth. It’s a way of getting our way when the cards seem stacked against us. Rather than trusting in God’s plans, we try to do things our way.
  5. feet that are quick to rush into evil,
    Ever hear some juicy piece of gossip and can’t wait to tell someone? Hear about a sultry scene in a movie and go out and watch it to see for yourself? Or even going out to do something just because someone told you not to? Granted, we’ve all sinned, so at some point we’re going to fall into something we shouldn’t. But this is more talking about going and looking for it, in outright defiance to God’s word.
  6. a false witness who pours out lies
     Here we are, back at lying. Now, if two things in the list of what God hates involve the same activity, we might want to avoid it. This one, however, is more about giving a false report about someone else. Think of how many courtroom dramas have someone lying under oath and getting caught. Or giving a false representation of who God is. Think of the men who followed Paul around, saying that, to follow Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, first you had to be found righteous under the law. False witness destroys the character and reputation of someone.
  7. and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
    “Beloved, let us love one another.” There are countless scriptures about unity, how the best things happen when we work together. Then someone comes along and tries to ruin the whole party. Maybe they’re upset they didn’t get their way. Or maybe they’re stirring up trouble just for trouble’s sake. There are some people in the world who like to argue, and will pick a fight just because they want a fight. But it sets us back. Our fight isn’t with each other, but when we turn our eyes against each other, that allows the enemy of our souls to slip about unnoticed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Are You Ready?

“A rich man and a poor man lived in the same town. The rich man owned a lot of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought and raised. The lamb became a pet for him and his children. He even let it eat from his plate and drink from his cup and sleep on his lap. The lamb was like one of his own children. One day someone came to visit the rich man, but the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own sheep or cattle and serve it to the visitor. So he stole the poor man’s lamb and served it instead.”

This story was told to King David by Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12:1b-4. When the king heard the story, he became furious and stated that the rich man deserved to die and even pay four times the worth of the lamb’s value. Nathan responded “You are that rich man!” (v7). If you’re confused, here’s the backstory: One day during the season of spring, it was known that the kings would wage war with each other for land, the king stayed behind. One afternoon, David was on the roof of his palace and he saw a woman. Her name was Bathsheba, and she was bathing in her courtyard. David saw her, and desired her (as she was a beautiful woman). He wanted her, and even though she was married he slept with her.

She had some great news for him sometime later: “I’m pregnant”. David freaked and had Uriah come home and sleep with his wife. Uriah was in the army and was concerned about his brothers, so he didn’t even go home to his wife. David then had another plan: send him back out to the battlefield, and set him up to be killed…this plan succeeded. David, once the greatest man of his time, was now an adulterer and a murderer. The Lord then sent Nathan to David to prophesy to him about the consequences of his deeds. Because of what David had done, not only will someone from his own family cause trouble (Absalom) and even take his wives to the bed chamber, but his newborn son (with Bathsheba) was going to die. David begged for God to let his son live, but God carried out what He said He would do.

Looking at America today, we can see the prevalence of the mantra “The end justifies the means”. Tax evasion to have more money, abortion to continue having sexual freedom, rejecting sinners so we can feel better about our own sins (I know that’s harsh, but it happens). Everywhere you look, there is someone who says “the result will be worth it” and then they leave a bloodied path of bodies as they go. There’s a piece of this mantra that should be added: “The end justifies the means, but the means justify the consequences.” Tax evasion leads to jail, abortion leads to physical complications and emotional torture, and rejecting sinners pushes us away from the Father. We, as the bride of Christ and the representatives of Jesus, need to look into the consequences of our actions to promote love and peace.

Bad choices tend to snowball into other bad choices; David first chose not to war for his kingdom and stayed home, he watched a naked woman bathe herself, he lusted for her and took her for himself (he had several wives at this point, mind you; it wasn’t like he wasn’t getting any action), tried to cover it up with a lie, and then finally chose to have her husband killed. A lot of bad things came from staying home…do any of you have the same problem? Sometimes choosing not to do anything is the cause of sin to creep in and tempt, because there is nothing to stop it. Then the snowball hits the rocks…regret, emotional trauma, feelings of worthlessness, and that’s only if no one finds out about your choices. Sometimes when others find out it can get even worse and the emotional disdain is terrible and it takes time to recover.

But recovery is there. The Lord says in 2 Corinthians that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v9) We make bad choices, they snowball, and we hurt people. Many times we aren’t even aware that we hurt someone. But God…that’s easily one of the greatest two words in the Bible…but God is powerful in our weakness. He is powerful when we fall. He is powerful when Satan comes upon us and tears us down for our mistakes. The key here is to know that God’s grace is sufficient for you…no matter what. David lusted after a woman, like some people lust through pornography or even just looking at people on the street, and God’s grace was sufficient to lead him from that temptation. David had sex with this married woman, like so many men in our modern day, and even young unwed couples who have sex and essentially commit adultery against the Bridegroom…but God’s grace is was sufficient to forgive and heal him. David murdered Uriah in the worst way: Uriah never knew the corruption behind his death…everyone thought Uriah was only a victim of circumstance. How many times have you done something manipulative to get your way and hurt someone? I know I have, and I’m only 22 years old; I’m sure I’ll do it again. But God’s grace is sufficient, even if you killed someone!

God also can redeem us and help turn the tables when the consequences come from the enemy. I’m a big fan of this show The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about scientists who are extremely nerdy, awkward, and love all things geek (reminds me of a few people, myself included). One episode has the main one, Leonard, having a visit from his mother. He brings her along to his work, and one of his friends (Howard) begins to ask questions that tear down Leonard. Leonard’s mother excuses herself and Leonard takes this time to try to get them to stop. Howard says “You know the rules: you brought your mother to work and now you must suffer.” But Leonard turns the tables: his mother is a neuro-physicist (glorified psychologist), and so Leonard reveals information about Howard and his buddy joining in the teasing (Raj) that causes his mother to psychoanalyze them and bring out some unsavory and quite embarrassing aspects of their personality. They’re speechless, and Leonard is just smiling away. We have the ability to turn the tables on Satan when he comes to tear us down; God is our resource.

But wait a sec, J! The scripture you’re using is about God’s consequences. What about that? Well, there’s no easy way to this but DEAL!!! God gives us consequences in order to prune us and make us better. In your own devotional time, read into Job and his story. Also, be on the lookout for my sequel to this blog called “God’s Not Fair” concerning living with God’s choices for our lives.

May the peace of God be upon you, and may His love shine down and touch your very soul. Shalom and go forth, Beloved. Be the Bride of Christ.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

So I intended to write about passion, using a scripture most of us have heard, Jeremiah 20:9 “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.” But then I read the passage this originates from.

In verses 1-6, we’re given the setting. Jeremiah gives the word of the Lord. It’s a word of disaster, a word of warning. But the people of Israel don’t take it very well.

So Pashhur, the head priest, has Jeremiah beaten and put into the stocks overnight. For proclaiming God’s word. And, then, we get to verse 7.

7 O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived;
       you overpowered me and prevailed.
       I am ridiculed all day long;
       everyone mocks me.
 8 Whenever I speak, I cry out
       proclaiming violence and destruction.
       So the word of the LORD has brought me
       insult and reproach all day long.
 9 But if I say, "I will not mention him
       or speak any more in his name,"
       his word is in my heart like a fire,
       a fire shut up in my bones.
       I am weary of holding it in;
       indeed, I cannot.

It goes on from there, Jeremiah mourning his own existence, even his birth, wishing that he’d been stillborn. This is the same guy who God spoke to, saying “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.” And this is just a couple of pages over from “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a destiny and a hope.” But here he is now, absolute rock bottom.

I’ve often heard the “fire shut up in my bones” as sort of a good thing. As in, “God’s Word is so good, I just can’t contain it!”

What we actually see here is the Word of God as a burden to Jeremiah. He was mocked, beaten, laughed at, locked up for proclaiming God’s word. Just like any of us, we’d want to keep it to ourselves instead of going through that again.

But the burden is so great, the words strain at his lips to get out. Fire in his bones. Not happy, shiny fireworks, but a towering inferno that feels like it’ll destroy him from the inside out.

Sometimes in life, we have to make the hard choice. Do we do God’s will, even though it will alienate us from everyone else? Or do we give in to the pressures of life and try to look the other way.

Jeremiah couldn’t. Didn’t work out too well for Jonah, either. But that’s another story.

But God has promised never to leave us OR forsake us. Even if we make the hard choice, He’s going to stand by us. And those that love Him will stand by you, too.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

We Can't Do This Alone

A wise man once wrote, “I can’t do this all on my own. No, I know I’m no Superman.” (That’s the Scrubs theme song, fyi) Catchy song it may be, but it does speak to a greater truth. God made us as social creatures. In fact, if you read in Genesis, during the creation of the world, God spends six days making….well, everything. And after everything, it says He “saw that it was good.” But then, in Genesis 2:18, God specifically says “it is not good for the man to be alone.” Here’s God…not quite admitting a mistake, but knowing that He’s not quite done yet. When God says that something’s ‘not good’ when we’re by ourselves, I think we should pay attention.

When we’re on our own, that’s when we’re at our weakest. Consider David. 2 Samuel 11 starts by saying it was springtime, “when kings go to war,” and David stayed home. All of his generals and advisors were probably out on the frontlines, so David was on his own. And, when David was in the wrong place at the wrong time, temptation comes knocking, in the form of Bathsheba. With all of his advisors away at the battlefront, no one is there to knock some sense into David, and he slips into sin.

Or, if that wasn’t enough, even Jesus himself faced this. Twice, He was shown to be (at least physically) alone. The first, in the wilderness before He began His ministry, Satan tempted Him to bow down in worship. Then, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were elsewhere and sleeping, Jesus was pleading to “let the cup pass,” begging for His life. In both cases, it was because of His connection with the Father that he was able to resist temptation and do what He knew to be right.

So where does that leave us? Quite obviously, we need relationships with other people as well as with Christ. Why is it we need each other?

Firstly, we need each other for accountability. Paul said to the Galatians “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently….Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) The natural tendency in the world is to point the finger at anyone caught in wrongdoing, make a spectacle, and never any sort of second chance. But it’s very clear, we are to stand by our fallen brothers and sisters, and restore them. This isn’t to say we should let each other get away with sinning, but when it happens, call them on it to bring them into repentance. Then start the restoration process. Ideally, we should even be a ‘voice of reason’ before things get too deep.

Secondly, and related, is encouragement. I don’t know about any of the rest of you, but I’ve had days where it seems like things go from bad to worse. On those days, an encouraging word from a friend goes a long way. That’s why Paul tells the Thessalonians “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” (Thessalonians 5:11) God calls us to build each other up, not tear each other down. This is especially true when a fellow believer has slipped up. The last thing we need is a condescending ‘told you so’ as we’re trying to pick ourselves back up.

Relationship also lends us strength. There are some things we just can’t do on our own. Sometimes that’s called ‘strength in numbers.’ Biblically, that translates to: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) If my car were to break down, I couldn’t push it by myself. Sure, I could put it in neutral and run around behind it, but I can’t guide it, and stopping would be difficult to say the least. One other person could work the steering wheel and the break. And if others show up, that’s less effort I have to exert to get it going.

It also helps us grow. Proverbs tells us “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) This is where discipleship comes into play, learning from one another. We can rely on each other as we walk through trials. And, more than that, we don’t have to walk through every trial, we can learn from someone else’s experience. Paul tells us in Hebrews, “let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1) You can learn quite a bit from simply studying, but it’s only through being relational that we get to put our knowledge to work.

Lastly, we need to have relationships with those around us because, well, God said so. Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” And then, when we come together, God comes alongside us. Jesus Himself says “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20)

We gravitate towards one another as part of our spiritual make-up, as designed by the Maker of the Heavens. Fellowship and relationship are ingrained in our very being, and when we lack these things, we suffer for it. And so I pray that you are blessed with true friendship, friends that will support you in times of trouble, and call you out when you need it. I pray for mentors, spiritual fathers and mothers who value you and shape your destiny, and for willing and moldable spiritual sons and daughters who learn from your guidance. And lastly, I pray that you would take on these characteristics yourselves, and be these things to others around you.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Saul and David. Elijah and Elisha. Naomi and Ruth. Paul and Timothy. All throughout the Bible, we see these sorts of pairs, people who come together, one to teach, one to learn. We’re told in Proverbs 27:17, “[As] iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Call it mentoring, call it apprenticeship, call it discipleship, in the end, that’s a big part of why we’re here.
Everyone knows the Great Commission, “Go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel.” But there’s a second half to that, “making disciples of all the nations.” We’ve almost been glossing over this half of it for years. There’s been a big focus on evangelism, bringing people into the Kingdom, but we sort of get them in the door and turn them loose.  But a lot of the statistics show this approach isn’t working. In 50 years, the percentage of Christians in the American population has gone from 49% to 40%.

There are two main problems with not discipling. First of all, without discipleship, it’s even harder to make the transition into living for Christ. We have all these ‘rules,’ we have our own sort of vocabulary, and throwing someone in without warning can be too much of a shock, and we can scare them away. Have you ever been hired for a job, and they give you a copy of the employee handbook and say, “read this when you can, now get to work”? No, that’s ridiculous. Or think of a football player who has the team playbook, but has never practiced, and doesn’t have any pads. He’d step onto the field and get killed. But that’s how we treat people just coming to know Christ. Pastor Phil calls it ‘aborting babies at the altar.’ By not giving them the care, the direction they need, we can drive them away from the Church.

And then, if somehow one of the ‘babies’ from the altar manages to stay within the body, without proper direction, how can they grow? If all someone learns about living for Christ comes from an hour and a half every Sunday morning, how much are they really getting? We’ve also heard Pastor Phil talk about “parting the mustache to put a bottle in the mouth.” Paul writes in Hebrews 6:1 “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” It takes a lot of time and effort to disciple someone. Jesus spent three years with the twelve, and they didn’t get it until after the fact. I have heard of people who’ve accepted Christ and then spent hours upon hours studying the word, all on their own, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Plus, as we’ve already talked about, we can’t do this alone.

I mentioned the “iron sharpens iron” proverb earlier, and that does work both ways. By discipling someone, you learn more about God that you would on your own. We don’t have to learn everything through direct experience. I’ve walked with my friends through things I wouldn’t have had to on my own. And you can be both a disciple and a mentor at the same time. And remember, don’t be offended if someone you disciple does things their own way. The whole point of discipleship is getting the ideas into someone so that they internalize it, and they can do it their way. Teachers teach with various methods to be sure their students “get it.” And Biblically, when Saul took David in, Saul tried to give David his armor, but David took up the five smooth stones.

Discipleship. It's how we grow. It's not so much about teaching or learning as it is about the relationship. You have to have a closeness before anyone can speak into your life, or before you'll allow them to speak into yours. And that's my vision for Crossroads, to build up those relationships, so that we, as a group, can learn from each other, on our way to maturity in Christ.