Wrestling til’ Daybreak

08.02.20

In seventh grade there was the group of boys who have already become ‘men’ – puberty for them was a thing of the past. Then there was the other half, like me and most of my friends, who were still a decade or two away from puberty.  Then, there was Matt, Matt experienced puberty prior to learning to walk.

No where was this categorization more obvious than in Physical Education class. Everyday, class would begin the same, when seemingly a 1,000 seventh grade boys would cram into the small locker room to change into our required gym clothes.  Not only was this a challenge because of space, but also, because the past puberty seventh grade men would just walk up and rip the lock off their locker, while the pre pubescent seventh grade boys would be in a panic, scrambling to remember their combination – at the end of class, we would all crowd back into the same locker room to take the required shower all together in the no privacy group shower room. It was terrifying.  Coaches would stand at the exit door to make sure everyone had wet hair before leaving. In between the beginning and the end of class, there was the actual class.  Small, beanpole, frightened boys playing games such as Dodge Ball against huge and hairy men. 

While the Friday Seventh Grade Dodge Ball games were enough to send shivers down the spine of a 7th grade boy….we were unaware of the true evil coming our way – until we did, it all began on a late fall Monday, in third hour.

The Wrestling unit.

The coach had quickly educated us on the first move, this was holding down your opponent or freeing yourself from your opponent. Followed by coach pairing us up with our opponent for the entire wrestling unit. His method of choosing partners is best described as ‘sadistic’.  From the beginning pair up, his strategy was painfully obvious – man against boy. The most terrifying of all pairings came at the moment when coach, sporting an evil smirk, yelled, ‘Anthony’, then taking a long pause to build the suspense, his evil smirk gradually widened as we turned and looked at all men waiting to be chosen. There was only one man left, I had been keeping track. He looked at me, and the fear in my eyes, and then turned to Matt and said ‘Matt, you will be Anthony’s partner.’

Coach was now in his happy place.

As Matt and I were called to the wrestling mat, instead of walking to the center of the mat, Matt walked directly to me. He bent his head down to my ear, remember that Matt was a giant, whispering, ‘I will be in thee floor position.’ At this point it was all semantics for me, on the floor or kneeling, the outcome would be the same.  I had resigned myself to a death on a Monday in late fall on the mat in the wrestling room during third hour.

As we took our positions, I unsuccessfully attempted to hide my fear, coach blew the whistle. Matt quickly rolled out of my grasp – exactly the way Coach had instructed, his next move, however, was a bit more unorthodox.  He rolled to his back, pressed his shoulders to the wrestling mat and yelled, ’Anthony pinned me!’

Coach still had the whistle hanging between his teeth, but now his evil smirk had change to a look of pure confusion.  His joy was gone, his sadistic anticipation of a bloody match, had evaporated in an instant.

Matt stood up, looked at coach, and said, ‘I don’t do wrestling.” He then walked away from the center returning to his seat on the edges of the mat.  

It was a surreal moment as coach raised my hand in the air and instructed me to return to my seat.  The next day we coach announced that we had completed the wrestling unit and would be moving on to the second part of the basketball unit.

Matt was now a hero for all the seventh grade prepubescent boys.

Wrestling is probably the world’s oldest sport, dating back to 3,000 BC.  It was introduced into the ancient olympics in the year 708 BC. My, career in wrestling, began, and ended, on a mat in the wrestling room of West Junior High School of Norman, OK, in the year 1973 AD, during third hour on a late fall morning.

The grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, was a hard and successful worker, but not really a fighter, or a wrestler, he was more of a runner (as in run away), he was a natural manipulator, an even better deceiver, but, he was not a fighter.  However, he was about to face the most epic of all wrestling matches.   

Jacob was on his way home, it had been 20 years since he had run away from a fight at home, a fight, with his brother which he was sure to lose.  During that 20 years he had married 2 sisters, had children by both wives and servants, had amassed a fortune, and realized that he was a good business man. He had also, for the first time, met his match in Laban, his deceptive and manipulative father-in-law….who had warriors to fight for him.

Jacob had weighed the odds of facing his scheming father-in-law, or, facing his brother Esau, who had surely been nursing a very justified grudge for the past 20 years.

As he secretly snuck out of Laban’s house with his wives, children, servants and possessions, he headed home, on the way, Jacob attempted to soften the anger of Esau by sending daily gifts. As he approached the ultimate face to face confrontation, Jacob delayed the inevitable for one more night.  Continually calculating the potential risks, Jacob split up his family, people, and possessions and hid them safely to minimize his losses. Then, after enlisting the use of all of his strategies of manipulations, Jacob went back to the overnight camp and prepared for a night alone.

Even with all of his selfish faults, Jacob was a very determined man.  His very name meant ‘one who holds onto his brother’s heel’ – which is what he was doing at his own birth.  Even in the womb he was determined to get, and be, the most of every category.

Back at camp, as Jacob was alone, there was a man who gave Jacob no option but to engage in the epic wrestling match of a lifetime.  It was dark so Jacob could not see who he was against, but the possibilities were endless. It could have been the ghost of his father, Isaac, who Jacob has deceived, or his bother Esau, who Jacob had deceived, or his father-in-law,  Labah, who Jacob had deceived. That was just the top three most obvious choices.  He did not realize it but he was actually about to engage in an all night wrestling match with God.  If the fight had been during the daylight, Jacob would have never engaged, he would have recognized the odds were definitely not in his favor, Jacob would have employed his most successful maneuver, he would have run away.  It was dark though, and Jacob unknowingly, engaged in an epic struggle.

God, being a father, fought like a father. He withheld his own power to match that of his child Jacob. This was not just a struggle of Jacob with God, it was also a struggle for God against Jacob.  In many aspects, Jacob had been in this wrestling match his entire life.  Battling the powers within himself that were constantly at war with what he knew was right.  Choosing to mistreat and mislead loved ones, leaving them with no choice but to compete with each other for his love and attention; the very ones who should have been able to rest in his love and acceptance, his wives and his own children.  Then there were those who love for Jacob was betrayed by his determination to ‘get more’ – his father and his brother.  This was not Jacob’s first wrestling match, but it was his first honest interaction that mattered, this struggle was pivotal and essential in the life of Jacob.

There is something very different in a wrestling struggle and a mere street fight.  In a fight your goal is to destroy your opponent, to a the point that he cannot even rise up as the fight is over – in a wrestling match, your goal is to prevail, to take inventory of all of all your resources, your strengths and your mind, and then use those resources to out maneuver, to out wit, and to out discern your opponent.  In the dark, when you do not know who your opponent is, reading the situation and the powers against you is much more difficult – all you have is your own resources doing all you can to prevail.  

As a sliver of daylight became visible on the horizon and the two men were still struggling, God,  released his power through a gentle touch.  A touch that displaced Jacob’s hip – a touch that broke Jacob, a touch that reveled to Jacob that this was no ordinary opponent.

Let go of me,’ God said to Jacob.

‘I will not until you bless me,’ Jacob replied.

Jacob was beginning to recognize the fullness of this situation.  While getting a blessing had been the goal of his life, he was fearful yet interested in the possibilities of this moment.  This was a transformative moment for Jacob, his struggle now turned inward, no longer being about prevailing but, instead, it now was about coming to terms with himself.  Understanding that his life was meant to be more than just about Jacob, but, quite possibly his life was about something larger.

The Jewish understanding of the concept of ‘blessing’ was not the self-centered, fortune cookie vision, that we have now. A blessing was given so that the blessed would bless others. God was going to bless Jacob so that, in order with the promise that had passed from his grandfather, to his father, and now to him. 

Understanding the full meaning a blessing, and understanding the cultural and religious understanding of the day, is essential for us to understand the transformation taking place in Jacob. A truly selfless spirit had to exist to receive such a blessing, and, until this struggle with God, Jacob did not have such a spirit. This struggle was the nudge, or push, that connected the dots for Jacob, he had an epiphany as the sun rose that morning. He was finally ready and willing to receive the blessing that he had been seeking his entire life.

Jacob used his greatest power, the power that he had been endowed with in the womb, the power to hold on.  As the night-long exhausting wrestling match depleted Jacob’s strength and power, he held on to this opponent. To which his opponent said,

‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’

God to Jacob

It was all very fuzzy but Jacob thought he heard the words ‘striven’, ‘God’, ‘humans’ and ‘prevailed.’  Jacob had no problem with the word ‘striven’ that had been the storyline of his life, a constant struggle with someone, but the words ‘God’ and ‘Prevailed?” 

‘Have I just wrestled with God all night? and, did I win?’

Jacob to himself

As Jacob considered the implications of his opponent’s statement, an opponent who had now withdrawn himself, Jacob began to have, as he allowed, an experience of transformation. He could see beyond himself, he realized his role in the course of the world, he was humbled and depleted, he was broken, he was being rebuilt.  He now walked with a limp, but there was also a change in his countenance, no longer was he dependent on his own wits to survive, life was much bigger now. He was not perfect, there would still be a lot of rough edges but this was at least a partial metamorphosed Jacob. As can be seen in the name he gives to this place, ‘Peniel’, meaning ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ It was a transformation that his life was no longer about prevailing, he wasn’t a prevailer, he was a runner – he had not prevailed, all he had done was to hold onto God, and in the struggle, he had been preserved.

He was now ready to face life, all the unknown, with no guarantees, no assurance of victories or personal gain, no recognition of importance or worth, but now, he was facing life with hope, sustainability, mercy and humility, all grounded on love.

In in order to understand the pertinence of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, to our own lives, let’s jump forward a couple of thousand years.  We end up at a wilderness place with thousands of hungry humans along with an exhausted Jesus and his weary disciples. Jesus has been denied even the shortest of breaks as he has, once again, has seen the oppression, the suffering, and the misery of the people.  His compassion and mercy compelled him to address their needs.  His passion makes it impossible to ignore. His, was a gut response to the needs, it pushed him to release, to heal, to free. There was an everlasting line of needs, one after the other. Jesus lived in the Kingdom of Heaven, even while on earth, a dwelling place that he calls all believers to live in,  a place where the physical needs of others are of priority to address, when the earthly reality is that the Roman Imperial system, as well as the existing religious system, did not see physical needs such as health, hunger, disease, poverty, shelter, abuse, and education as issues of priority.

So, when the disciples suggested that it was getting dark and that it would be best to send the crowds home, Jesus was perplexed.  There were still needs to be met, plus, now the people were hungry.

‘You feed them,’

Jesus to Disciples

‘We do not have anything to give them,’ the confused followers said, ‘we didn’t plan on feeding anyone, let alone a crowd this size.  We don’t have anything! What good can 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread for all these people?’

While what they didn’t have was the earthly focus of the disciples, the kingdom focus of Jesus was on what they did have.  They had a starting point. Jesus took that bread and the fish, and broke it all apart and distributed the small, tiny pieces into the baskets to be passed among the people.

The disciples had to be horrified at the thought of passing these basically empty baskets among the hungry crowd, to a crowd expecting something great to happen. The disciples had to be frustrated.  Jesus needed to rest, the crowds were hungry, the line for help was endless, they were in the middle of no where, it was time to go home.  The disciples were upset, they were struggling, they were in an epic wrestling match.  It was daylight, they could see their opponent, it was the whiny and complaining crowds with all their needs, their suffering, their oppression, their ancestral passing down of this oppression based largely on pigmentation, their nationality, their societal placement, the color of their skin, their enslavement, their poverty, and now their hunger.  They were not prepared and now it was on Jesus, and the disciples to provide.

‘When would this end?’ They questioned.

The more their frustration simmered the more they realized that the crowds were not their opponent, much like Jacob, they were wresting against Jesus, they were wresting against God.

Jesus was the problem, God was the source of this ridiculous situation. If Jesus did not have to stop every time a hurting person appeared this would not have gotten so out of hand.  If only God were to instruct Jesus to dismiss the needs sometimes, if only he would moderate the passionate compassion of Jesus.  Afterall, there were more important and pressing things to get to.

As with all of Jesus miracles, the miracle of creation to this moment of needs and hunger, we do not know the technical details of the abundance of food that filled every person in attendance that day, but we do know that the day ended with an abundance. It could have been a magical moment when the tiny broken pieces strangely multiplied, or it could have been an even more miraculous transformational moment as the people put themselves aside realizing they didn’t have to take more than they needed, or possibly seeing the contribution of the fish and loaves spurred them to realize they also could contribute.  Regardless of the how, the reality is that there was not only enough food there was actually an abundance.

The disciples then realized that their struggle was not with the crowds, nor was it with Jesus, it was with themselves. It was about a struggle with trust that came with living outside of the Kingdom of heaven where earthly things are allowed to hinder us from answering the call of God. Keeping us from addressing issues of injustice, oppression, deep inherited baggage that is more than humans can bear, hunger, sickness, racism, hatred, dismissal, disregard, poverty, and all suffering. All the things that tangle our roots and restrict our sight.

A wrestling match can bring us to transformation if we hold on. A struggle can show us what we have instead of what we do not have.  What is your struggle, what is God bringing into your vision?

With an attitude of willingness to be a part of God’s answer to our prayer, let us pray.

More than Survivors

07.26.20

In the 1991 movie City Slickers, on his 39th birthday, Mitch Robbins (played by Billy Crystal) asks his boss:

Did you ever reach a point in your life, where you say to yourself, ‘This is the best I’m ever going to look, the best I’m ever going to feel, the best I’m ever going to do’, and it ain’t that great?

Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) City Slickers, 1991

His wife insists that he go with his buddies on a cattle drive to ‘Find his smile.’ On the cattle drive, Mitch has a moment with the cattle drive foreman, a crusty, burly, and very non-social, cowboy named Curly (Jack Palance).

Curly : Do you know what the secret of life is? [Curly holds up one finger]  This.

Mitch : Your finger?

Curly : One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean (expletive).

Mitch : But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly : [smiles]  That’s what *you* have to find out.

This, in different forms, is the question we all ask –  ‘What is my one thing?’

Jesus had come to the close of the first two parables of Matthew 13.  Much of the crowds left shaking their heads, muttering ‘Darn Hippee!. The remaining 6 parable, however are for his followers, those who have made the decision to listen and understand. The crowds had largely rejected the message of Christ – the followers had recognize the truth in his words.

Jesus begins by taking us, to a sower who is sowing a tiny mustard seed.  It is the smallest of seeds yet will grow the largest of bushes that basically be a tree.  In its, soon to be, tree state, it will serve as a home to birds and their nests, at the same time, this small mustard seed will also be a source an essential spice for cooking and nutrition.  Within this tiny seed is everything it needs to do all it will be called to do and be.

A woman is making bread, a lot of bread – probably for a celebration. She has 60 pounds of flour which will make about 60 loafs of bread.  She mixes the elements required by her recipe, including a small amount of leaven in with the flour.  Over night, the life in the leaven, rises the dough sufficiently for the bread to be ready for the celebration. A tiny amount of leaven enables the dough, and the cook, to be ready for a feast.

A treasure hunter finds a treasure chest in a field, it is the treasure he has sought his entire career.  The hunter went and sold everything that he owned using all the proceeds to purchase the field, and indirectly, the treasure. Nothing he owned held any value compared to the treasure in the field.  He has sacrificed everything, now he sits in his field with his treasure. The field with the treasure is truly sufficient.

Another individual is a merchant who searches for, and sells, exquisite fine pearls, finds a single pearl which has a great value. He sells everything that he has in order to purchase the pearl.  He is done, he has sacrificed everything he owned in order to do the greatest thing he could do.  He now stands and watches the world with the pearl in his pocket.

A large dragnet is thrown into the sea and dragged along in order to catch all fish.  When the huge full net, containing fish of every kind, is dragged to shore, the destructive fish, those that would destroy the entire catch, are discarded & destroyed.  The net, has done its job, it has gathered all the fish.

The job of the scribe is to find & interpret the law & truth.  He is not only passionate his job, but he is passionate about he truth itself, it is his treasure. He pursuit is not just academic, it is life.

The problem with the question, ‘What is our one thing?’ is that it is too narrow, too shallow.  It merely seeks an answer for our survival.  ‘If I can just get through this day, this week, this year, this pandemic, these protests, the election, this phase, this feeling, this crisis, this…..’ It is merely a survival technique designed to get through life. Jesus’ parables paint a picture of life that is not one of survival.

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul wrote very non survivalist statements to the churches in Rome:

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’

‘You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.’

‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness’.

‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’

‘If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?’

‘we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’

The question is not about our passion, our goal, our hopes, our dreams, our fulfillment, our dependency, our escape, our plan B, who are we, who do we want to be, what do others think of us, our success, it is not really about a ‘one thing.’ The question is a treasure question, a pearl question, a leaven question, a mustard question, a good and evil question, a pursuit of truth question.

It is a,

‘Where am I?’ &

‘Is it where I need to be?’,

question. 

Jesus said:

‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

Matthew 6:21

As Jesus was asked to teach the ‘how’ of praying, he did not send them to their knees with eyes closed and head bowed, no, instead he took them to  where they needed to be as they began to speak to God.

Pray this, ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:10

He took them to a place where prayers begin, with God at his place, the place where a making a request is accepting the responsibility and willingness to be the hands and feet of the answer to the prayer.

It is not a location that can be identified by our GPS, it is much more real and pertinent than that.  We are called to live, IN, the Kingdom of Heaven now.

Jesus said to Martha, ‘I AM the resurrection, I AM the Life.’

He told his disciples, ‘I came so that you may have life abundantly.’

He said to those who were attacking him, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’

and, he said to Martha, ‘You are worried and distracted by so many things.’

Jesus invitation is much more than a ‘one thing’, it is not a ‘what’ question but a ‘where’ question.  He is calling us to a life lived in his Kingdom now so that we can reveal the Kingdom to a world that has become at home with the evil in the net. 

So, he prayed,

‘God, may your Kingdom come here.’

Jesus tells us these metaphors, these parables, to help us understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is, the location of the Kingdom here on earth.   It is in the dirt, it is in the kitchen, it is in the field, it is in the pocket, it is in the net, it is in truth.

We are called to the same place Jesus lived on this earth, the Kingdom of Heaven, a place where he frequently suffered but was never despondent, where he was rejected but always held his resolve, a place where he was always at peace even in the midst of chaos and turmoil, a place where he was consistently attacked but never without hope, a place where he was applauded but never arrogant, a place where sacrifice was his calling not survival, a place where he was a conqueror even though it looked like defeat.

In the Jewish tradition – when a boy or a girl reaches the age of 13 they are ready to be a full part of the Jewish community, they are ready to take part in the religious practices and traditions.  This is officially recognized at the celebration of Ba(z)mitzvah for the girls, and Barmitzvah for the boys. It is at this time that their elders will proclaim to them ‘You are now a Woman,’ ‘You are now a Man!’  Much preparation has taken place before this celebration.  The paradox sets in two days later as they return to school where their teacher is still treating them as a child with rules and restrictions that are for children. Here they are, a Man, a Woman, and yet they are still stuck in the world of their childhood.  They are now an adult, yet their adolescent body is screaming ‘I’m barely a teenager!’ They now begin their journey, a journey of an adult in a world of children.

This is what living now in the Kingdom of Heaven is, living in an imperfect world, that ultimately cannot harm us eternally, yet the impacts and restrictions all around intertwine into our life.

We have been caught up in the net, but the evil is still in there with us. We are constantly making the choice of which world we live in.

We choose to be the adult on the playground in the kickball game of life.

As we have journeyed through the prophetic ministries of Isaiah and Jeremiah, I have been horrified by the correlation between then and now. These prophets were screaming truth, at the top of their lungs, and no one was listening.  They were yelling that the religious leaders and the oppressive politicians were in collusion with each other at the expense of all humanity.  The people had settled in and accepted it, they believed the false prophets that were selected, honored, and adored by the religious and political leaders. These false prophets knew that their position could change in a moment if they failed to affirm the leaders decisions, statements, and agendas.  The people stood firm in their support of this deception and danger because it was what the way of the leaders were leading.  All the while, disaster loomed heavy outside the broken down walls of Jerusalem.

As I have immersed myself in the absurdity of this historical reality, which can be impossible not to see that the same tragic absurdity that Isaiah and Jeremiah were addressing is still a dangerous absurdity in our world today.  We have religious leaders who have been selected and appointed by the politicians. We have politicians afraid to step out of line or they will be humiliatingly discarded by their own system. We have words, and concepts, like life, unity, strength and force, safety, military, science, law enforcement, God, Bible, Constitution, Love, and faith used to nurture hate, death, disrespect for life, division, hopelessness, non-accountability, racisim, degradation of human life around the globe, and so much more…it is all waiting for us right outside the gates.

We label those as liberals who do not use our exact words about God’s truth while failing to ponder the depth of God’s greatest call on us.  We label those as radicals who do not conform to our exact interpretations of creation yet we refuse to make the sacrifices needed to care for God’s creation.  We reject those who don’t interpret God’s concern for children in the same way as we do, yet we refuse to accept the personal sacrifice of time, resources, and money required to fully take care of children and, for that matter, all humans.  We have called heretics those who are not in agreement with us on constitutional issues and interpretations, even when those views are often in direct opposition to God’s truth and to the revelation of God seen in Jesus.

We, are not only failing to separating our roots, we have justified the enemy that has sown the seeds of weeds and have welcomed him in along with his tangling weed roots.

Quite honesty, as I have seen this, it has worn on me. Beginning last fall, I could physically feel it.  Last thanksgiving my son Isaiah made the comment to me that he felt like he had an anxiety knot in his chest. I realized that was what I had.  Add to that, a God given blessing of seeing first hand the situation at the border, the pandemic, the protests, the division and arrogance – I allowed my roots to tangle with the roots of the evil inside the net. I have been hesitant to mention these correlations on Sunday mornings to you, and you guys are wonderful! God has often kept me awake all Friday and Saturday nights, or awakened me early Sunday morning, until I very changed the message to the very message he had been calling me to all week.  I had allowed the roots of the weeds and my roots to become very tangled, and I was physically feeling it.

As believers, our dwelling place is in the Kingdom of Heaven now, we are the hands and feet of the Lord’s prayer that God’s will be done on earth – NOW.  Not in an arrogant, hateful, judgmental, condemning way – but in a fruits of the spirit way, in a Micah 6:8 way, in the greatest two commandments way.

We are at the plate, but now as an adult on the childrens’ playground, we know we have the power to conquer, heck, we have the power to kick the ball up to the playground teachers holding their coffee at the other end of the playground, however, we also know that Joey, in right field looking at his phone, will get a bloody nose if we kick it over the first baseline with all the power we know we have, so we act with mercy, justice, love, showing fruits of the spirit, and kick with an intentionality that allows Joey, who hasn’t yet realized that we are an adult and that we are no longer the child, who yesterday, forgot the difference between 1st and 2nd base – we kick it so Joey will have time to realize the ball is slowly rolling his way, put his phone in his back pocket, and run to pick it up throwing it majestically to second base, were Elizabeth, the strongest, coolest, and best athlete in the fifth grade catches the ball, giving Joey his moment as she yells, ‘Good throw, Joey!’  So as the whistle is blown, Joey walks back for afternoon classes, he has had a moment of glory even while the evil is still in the net, not knowing it was thanks to us, but knowing it was a great already a great day.  A moment that will sustain him through the coming humiliation of not remembering that his notebook, containing his homework now being collected, is scattered all over the playground where he left his binder behind the backstop.

We live as we would like others to live, we live in the Kingdom of Heaven while in the midst of the elementary playground.

We suffer in this world that does not match up with where we really live.  We can choose to ignore the realities of this world, the evil that is still in the net, we can live with our noses in the air refusing to soften our power at the plate – because, quite frankly everyone else enjoys the cheers of a homer at the expense of Joey in right field.  Or, we can notice Joey and have mercy and love, we can act with justice for Elizabeth who sometimes does the opposite of yelling ‘good catch, Joey’ , we can show them both, and everyone else on the playground, where we live by how we live in the midst of the net full of evil….Just like Jesus did.  

So, as I have struggled with the ‘anxiety knot’ God has been working with me.  Reminding me as I observe the the evil still in the net, I must not forget where I live, I must not let my roots get tangled in with the roots of the weeds.  The weeds live there, I do not, our weeds do not belong intertwined.  My politics, my vocation, my education, my life must not tangle with the roots of the weeds, tangled roots pull us away from where we really live. In the end, our politics, our education, our vocation, our relationships, all the stuff of life, must be directed by where we live, in the Kingdom –  we can’t allow those things to dictate that we live in the net

The apostle Paul called this ‘Suffering with Christ’ – living in a world that does not match up with where we truly live.

It is the difference between surviving and conquering.

Curley asks, ‘What is Your one thing?’ 

The Spirit asks, ‘Where are you at?’

Paul, a resident of the Kingdom of Heaven, living on the planet earth, put it this way:  

‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Romans 8:38-39

Let us pray.

Deeply Rooted – Pulling Weeds

07.19.20

A farmer planted a field with wheat seed but, as he and his workers slept, an enemy came into his field and planted weed seeds in the same exact places there the wheat seeds had been planted. The strategy was to plant the weeds close enough so the roots would intertwine with the wheat roots. As soon the seeds began to sprout the workers noticed that many of the sprouts were not wheat – they were weeds.  The workers immediately ran and told the farmer about the weeds  – volunteering to start pulling weeds themself. 

The farmer recognized that an enemy had secretly entered the field and sowed the weeds. I’m sure that the workers first thought was not ‘Who would do such a thing?’ Or ‘Who could possibly be an enemy to our master?’ Instead, I imagine that they asked ‘Who would have seeds to grow weeds?” Who would be so vengeful, so calculated, so hateful?

The farmer assessed the situation and told the workers to allow the weeds to grow up with the wheat. He knew the roots of the wheat and the weeds were already tangled.  Pulling the weeds would result in pulling up much of the wheat.

So they waited until the harvest was ready and then pulled the weeds first, bundled and burnt them, and then, they will be free to pull the wheat.

The workers were to wait until the roots of the wheat would be untangled from the roots of the weeds.

I began to study wheat roots this week and quickly became overwhelmed. The roots are intricate and designed to seek out moisture in dry and cracked soil, but the most interesting and applicable thing about wheat root is in the seed itself.  The wheat seed is created with the ability to grow different 2 root systems during the growth process.  The first roots are set to support the system in the immediate stages of development.  This system of roots remains fairly shallow and would be easy fodder for the roots of weeds.  However, once the infant wheat seed stabilizes, the seed begins to grow the second series of roots which grow in a more vertical manner (which helps them seek out moisture), making them more capable of freeing themself from the weed roots.

This helps us understand why the newly sprouted wheat plants would be in danger if they were pulled up early.

After Jesus had told this parable, and had left the crowds, the disciples asked him to explain the meaning.  He explained that he was the sower of the good seed, the field is the entire world, the good seed are the people of God’s kingdom, the bad seeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows the bad seeds is the Devil, the harvest will take place at the end of the age at judgement, and the harvesters will be the angels.

This parable, at first glance, appears to be a call for us to gather the weeds now, and to then burn them – however, the true takeaway is actually the opposite. Pulling up and burning the weeds is not our assignment in this story, and, in fact, according to our mission of not judging or condemning, we are clearly unqualified, and we will never be qualified.

Our job is to join the farmer in the wait; waiting on roots to be untangled and free.

I am not sure there could be a more difficult and frustrating role, honestly, I am ready to pull some weeds.  Weeds that I have identified as putting our loved ones in danger, that are diluting and perverting the gospel, that are dividing us all – even within same faiths, weeds that are choking our love for God and destroying our ability to love all others as we love ourself.

The truth is that this parable is not about pulling or burning weeds, it is not about children of the evil one, it is not about us labeling humans good and evil, but, it is about the expansiveness of God’s grace, it is about the depth of God’s patience, it is about the full definition of what Jesus meant when he said  that ‘God so loves the world’  – the limitless love of God, it is about God’s complete understanding of the human experience.

It is not about pulling up, it is about untangling and being free. It is about holding off judgement until the last root that is willing to be untangled is untangled.

Let’s begin with a few elements of the parable and Jesus’ explanation.

Let’s start with the sower of the weeds…

The Enemy

The word is used four times in the gospel of Matthew.  Here in 13:35, the Enemy sows the weeds in the field.  Back in 5:43-44, the We are instructed, by Jesus to love our Enemies, and to even pray for them.  The third appearance of Enemy is in 10:36 where Jesus warns the apostles that they will have enemies in their same household, in their families. The final Enemy caution is found in 22:24 where Jesus harkens back to King David where we see these same enemy, the enemy that sowed the weeds, will ultimately be under the foot of Jesus as he is sitting at the right hand of God.

The Sower is identified as…

The Devil

Our next element of the parable comes in the Devil.  Here again, Devil is mentioned 4 times in the gospel of Matthew.  First we see Devil in chapter 4 as Jesus is tempted by the Devil who is tempts him to be allied with the devil instead of God. The 2nd is here in our focus passage where Jesus identifies the enemy Sowing the Weeds as being the Devil.  The 3rd comes in 16:33 when Jesus says to his disciple Peter ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ as Peter attempts to sway Jesus from God’s plan (something Peter does thinking it is the best way to save Jesus). The 4th mention of Devil is found in Matthew 25 as the King is addressing the unrighteous at judgement:

‘Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46

Let’s, now, return to our field full of wheat and weeds.

The workers have correctly identified that the field now has weeds growing alongside the wheat.  However, the farmer is concerned, if the weeds are pulled in the early stages of the wheat root system development, their shallow roots will be intertwined with the roots of the weeds and the risk of killing the wheat is certain.

Since we are not the weed pullers in this parable, nor are we the enemy or the children of the enemy, so what is the call that comes out to us from this parable of Jesus?

The answer is that we have

Root Responsibility

This takes us back to the first parable in Matthew 13 where we found the absolute necessity of having good soil in order to have deep roots. To til our own soil, making it receptive to truth, discerning those forces that will contaminate the soil – this is our unique call.  Removing the toxins of hate and racism, the impurities that prevent our part in achieving justice and freedom in the lives of others, the poisonous particles that lead us to reject truth moving us to complacency, everything that destroy our soil and inhibit our roots.

Tilling the soil is a very individually intentional process. It starts with standing guard over those elements that are permitted into the soil, asking, are we allowing the politics of division, are we welcoming the religiosity of judgement and condemnation, are we seeking and searching for truth, do we love mercy and justice for all, and, are we rejecting lies and deceit?

Are we taking our soil seriously, or have we outsourced it over to others? Are we accepting all the seeds being thrown in our direction or are we seeking to reject the bad seeds from our soil?

And, after that, we ask, ‘do we have tangled roots?‘ and How do we untangle the roots?’

God tells us to ‘wait’…and, in telling us to wait, God has signaled what he does, as we grow deep roots and we work to untangle from the weeds…

God waits.

God’s grace, his guidance, his mercy, his compassion, his hope, and his love, waits, alongside of us and for us.

When the weeds were sown in among us, he didn’t do a risk assessment to determine how many wheat plants it would be okay to lose if the workers were to pull the weeds right away, making a wheat harvest much easier and less costly later, resulting in higher profit. No, every wheat seed was important and valuable, they all were needed in the field.

He waits.

He doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t ridicule us, he doesn’t condescend towards us, he doesn’t reject us, he doesn’t turn his back on us, he doesn’t replace us, he doesn’t ignore us, he doesn’t dismiss us….He waits.

You see, as God does his job as the sower and the farmer, he addresses the concerns on the surface.  He guards the fields from herbivorous predators and other destructive pestilence.

He, having given us free will, and the power, he waits for us to develop and untangle our roots so we are ready for harvest.

Time to interject Important Note: Jesus told this to those who had the mission of untangling their roots, the very people he was calling to do the personal work.  He further explained it to his disciples who were also called to a work of personal root untangling. And, over two thousand years later, he calls us to the same.  If you are hearing, or reading this, you are not a ‘child of the evil one’.  In fact, one of the first weeds the enemy will try to tangle in your roots is this lie, that you are hopeless and too far tangled, you are not.

See, when we identify growth problems in others, things that we mistakenly judge and condemn as sin, it is actually a much deeper problem – a tangled roots problem.  The same is true for us, tangled root problems.

Throughout this pandemic God has brought world wide tangled root problems to our attention.  There have been two obvious, constant, reminders constantly being thrown before our eyes.  

This past Friday, as I was still struggling through this parable and particularly with God’s primary point for us – Grace Fellowship and all believers, today and in this time – God turned up the volume, literally, the volume on the television news.  The voice was a mayor of a large city in a state where Covid numbers are rapidly rising and surpassing record numbers.  The mayor, looked as though he was in the midst of a campaign rally standing before a large crowd of supporters.  What caught my eye was that he was wearing a mask, something we do not always see in our political leaders.  As the mayor spoke his tone began to change, he dramatically ripped off the mask, and declared that his city would survive without those ‘silly things’.  The audience roared with applause and laughter. 

This mayor, as well as the crowd, has a tangled root problem. They have allowed their roots to become tangled with roots that are not concerned with the health of others which, ironically is causing them to not care about their own health.  They have put their own agendas ahead of truth, they are listening to politicians and to a very agreeable exclusive, and small, group of scientists who are in line with their agenda, instead of those who are risking everything to give us truth.  They have a root problem tangled with roots that is preventing them from loving others as themselves, and, therefore of loving God.

In the northeast Oregon, a church that insisted on continuing in person worship services is tied to 236 positive tests, in West Virginia a church is linked to over 51 positive tests, in San Antonio a church is tied to 50 cases, in Tennessee a pastor said that he stopped counting after hearing of 12 members testing positive following attending in person worship, a Christian camp in Missouri shut down after 82 individuals positive cases were tied to the camp.  All of these outbreaks took place just in the month of June. All of these institutions had taken precautions. All of these had a root problem. Tangled roots caused them to harm rather than to love.

Our White House, this week, demanded that hospitals begin sending their Covid test numbers to the White House instead of the to the CDC. Tangled roots of political agendas, as they often do, have made vital truth even more difficult to find.

The other occurrence that we have seen since the beginning of the Pandemic is the protest all over our nation demanding justice for those American, and humans, of different races.  This is not a new problem, but it is a deeply dismissed and ignored problem. We have responded to the protests by pointing out the rage presented by those dealing with a full ancestry of oppression and racism. They have been killed at a disproportionate rate and have frequently been ignored by our justice system. We respond with comments like, ‘If they would just act differently, if they could be like us…’, if they wouldn’t protest and riot’ – instead of considering the damage of pain and oppression.  Interestingly, we herald the revolutionaries in our own history, who threw tea into the water, tea that would have been one million dollars loss to the owners , George Washington was against this protest. Still he love this story as pivotal in our freedom.

Politicians have recently responded by saying ‘White people have been killed to…’. Which is not only ignorant in its revelation of misunderstanding but also as unChristlike as is humanly possible.

God is waiting for us to untangle our roots,

he is prompting us to recognize our problems beneath the soil by letting us see the problems that are blatant above the soil.  He is lovingly revealing to us the work that is still needed before harvest time.

He is calling us to stop tying to pull the weeds from others based on our own judgmental and condemning perceptions and, instead, check out our own roots.

He is calling us to free our tangled roots from all the evil seeds that are keeping us from the greatest commandments from God.  Love.

God is calling us to Revival

If you grew up in an evangelical church, you have surely heard it prayed ‘God, bring us revival.’  God is bringing us revival, now. This revival does not fit the perimeters that have heard it prayed for however, it will not involve emotional church worship services where great music leads the participants to raise their hands, close their eyes, maybe even drop to their knees in tears.  It won’t involve an outpouring of confession of personal sin or even multitudes coming to know Christ.  It will, however, be very personal, very private.  This Revival involves each of us, that are followers of Christ, to begin untangling our roots. To untangle from the roots of politics, agendas, personal rights, hatred, racisim, selfishness.  It will be a revival of God pointing those out to each of us privately. This revival is already underway – it is time that you and I join in.

God rejoices in unity, the enemy delights in division; God desires peace for us, the enemy seeks to sow chaos in our lives; God passionately encourages us to have good soil and deep untangled roots, the enemy seeks to render our soil toxic and our roots shallow; God desires justice, the enemy incites prejudice, racism, and violence; God is merciful, the enemy is vindictive; God leads us in a life of hope, the enemy leads us to ruin; God is love, the enemy is hate.

God waits patiently until the day when he can say to us,

 ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:32-40

Let us pray.

Thankful for the Seeing Good Moments

 God, we thank you for ‘seeing good’ moments. When we see the extraordinary in the ordinary. In the midst of quarantine and isolation, in these times of protests and economic fears, in dark times when little seems familiar, we recognize your light in the heart, and actions, of others.

God, we have seen the extraordinary in the ordinary of our healthcare workers. Endangering themself and their families through the ordinary act of going to work. Frequently having to isolate from their families & friends. Enduring conspiracy theories & personal rights proclamations, from many of those to  whom they extend mercy.

God, we thank you for our local leaders as they seek to take precautionary measures to protect us from illness and death. They have put their own positions at risk in making the difficult and tough decisions.  They have made decisions that others have been afraid to make.

God, we thank your for our public eduction leaders, teachers, and staff. Jumping into action to do their ordinary jobs in an extraordinary fashion. They have strategized how to resume an ordinary when the ordinary is no longer an option. They now face the risks for self, students and all their families, as they  report back to jobs that will never be the same.

God, we also thank you for the essential works & businesses quickly developing new systems to serve us even when existing systems were no longer usable. They have continued to work, to serve, and to smile, in the midst of the risks and dangers. They have been underpaid, overworked, and almost always, unnoticed.

God, we thank you, we are seeing noticing of others more than ever before,

Just life Christ did with the bent over woman in the temple, the accused woman in the public square, the weak woman in the crowded streets, the ruler who had everything but could give up nothing, the thief hanging on the cross.

God, thank you as we begin to notice beyond skin color, 

We are seeing beyond cultures and actions, beyond nationalities, religions, & practices, we have begun to notice that pain can go deeper than we can comprehend. Pain that reveals itself in ways that distract us from the reality of the devastating impact passed down through generations. 

God, thank you that we continue to see the beauty of your creation in the joy of a pet, the smile of a neighbor, the laugh of a child, the opportunity to help and serve, the expressions of concern and empathy, the masks worn even when not mandated, the hands and feet of those who help after a storm, the privileged standing up for the underprivileged, the different colors that are standing up for each other, the realization of things we don’t need, & what we do need.

Amen

Sunday Prayer Together

 God, we thank you for truth. We thank you for the truth. We acknowledge that you are truth. 

We are grateful that your word is truth. We are thankful that your word is a lamp to our feet. We are grateful that truth is a light to our path. 

Lord, we confess that we have failed to seek truth. We have settled for the darkness of Deceitful words, Hateful rhetoric, Divisive subtleties, Contentious labeling, and, Dangerous coverups. 

We have given away the power of our own path over to, Screaming pundits, False prophets, Clever slogans, Internet bots, and Manufactured conspiracies.

We have covered our ears, We have closed our eyes, in order to hear, and see, their deceit.

Lord, remind us to uncover our ears, remind us to open our eyes, to see your lamp guiding our feet, to see your light directing our path.

Lord, we will know it is your light, your lamp, your light, when we can see and hear…. Love, Peace, Patience, Joy, Compassion, Caring, Justice, Sacrifice, Humility, Mercy,  and Unity.

God, we will discern it is your word, your truth, when it is consistent with the life and words of Jesus.

Lord, remind us of our Privilege to seek truth, Our obligation to search for light, Our choice to take the path you set before us. 

God, we know that when we find truth, we will find freedom, and then,  when we are able to lay down our burdens, we will experience your rest, 

For we will find that your burden is truly light.

Amen

The Perplexity of Me

 07.05.20

I vividly remember a friend in high school telling me that her mom was wanting to switch churches.  Since I also attended the same church I was very curious as to the reason.  The story was that her mom was mad at the pastor because he didn’t speak about sin enough.  She especially wanted him to preach about the sin of smoking. I found this amusing as my first memory of church was going to a small town First Baptist Church every Sunday morning and the doorway which we entered in was also the smoking spot for all the deacons.  Mom and Dad would tell us to take a breath and in we went.

Bobby Schuller, pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church in Irvine, California, tells the story of being a new pastor, and coming up with what he thought was a genius marketing strategy to reach their surrounding area.  Most of the commercial business establishments in the immediate vicinity of their church building were bars, so Bobby thought it made sense to have match books made up with their church name and basic details. The plan was to give them free to the bars and then ask them to, in turn, give them to their customers.  Customers would stick them in their pockets and later, pull  them out and read the cover.  After he handed out several bulk boxes of matches to the bartenders and bar owners, several of his members were  aghast to find the name of their church on the match boxes they were given at the bar. Ironically, it was the effectiveness of his marketing scheme that landed him in hot water with several of church members and leaders.  They accused him of inciting people to sin by giving them matches.

As I have planned out this message, I have attempted to formulate a soften, and possibly humorous, way to announce the theme – However, I have to just be honest. Today we talk about Sin.

There is a high likely hood that even as I say this word, you are thinking of the sins that you most enjoy judging and condemning in other people, or, you are thinking of the sins that you are most ashamed and humiliated by in your own life. 

The apostle Paul makes a very personal revelation as he writes to the churches in Rome:

‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’

Apostle Paul (Romans 7:15b)

Philosopher and theologian, Philip L. Quinn, described the manner in which the three major world religions approach the subject of sin:

‘Sin is the concept of a human fault that offends a good God and brings with it human guilt. Sins’ natural home is in the major theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religious traditions share the idea that actual or personal sins are individual actions contrary to the will of God. In the Hebrew Bible, sin is understood within the context of the covenantal relation between Yahweh and his chosen people. To be in covenant with Yahweh is to exist in holiness, and so sin is a deviation from the norms of holiness. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus teaches that human wrongdoing offends the one whom he calls Father. The Qur’an portrays sin as opposition to Allah rooted in human pride.’

(Quinn)

Regardless of our definition, sin is, by all counts, a bad thing, and to be considered a sinner or sinful, is an even worse thing

This was the mission of John the Baptizer, to prepare the people for the arrival of the Messiah –  by preaching a message of repentance from sin.:

Let’s define Sin. 

The prophet Isaiah defined sin this way: 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, 

Isaiah 53:6a

God sums this up with the word Iniquity.

So, ‘going astray’ and ‘turning to our own way’ is our  iniquity.

‘Straying from God’, ‘turning away from God’, changes what guides our actions, reactions, responses, thoughts, plans, and agendas.  So, ‘Our way’ as opposed to ‘God’s Way’ is what points us in the direction of actions that are right or are that are sin.

Next let’s look at the first Sin to better understand,

Eve, perfect until the serpent tricks her into taking the forbidden fruit, OR, Eve, created with the ability to make her own choices, having already placed herself on the trajectory of taking the fruit as she would sit everyday, eating the the identical fruit as she could get from the forbidden tree, however, the more she stares at that same fruit on the forbidden tree, the more she wants the forbidden fruit.

She has had the choice of which way to look, God’s Way or Eve’s Way.  One way reminds us of truth, the other takes us to a fantasy deceitful world where anything forbidden will taste better.  By looking away from God, Eve has allowed her personal ‘wants’ to take over.

Enter the serpent, his job is pretty easy, he just has to point Eve in the direction of the forbidden fruit, she has already set her mind on it, she has already quit listening for the voice of God in the garden, or even looking his way,  so she can have a better and unhindered focus on this fruit that she does not have, she just needs a little nudge, a little encouragement, a little affirmation, that this bad choice is actually the best choice.

The same way that Eve ended up with a forbidden fruit, is the same was that we end up with forbidden fruit. It begins with our turning away from God, going astray, is a sometimes subtle, sometimes blatantly intentional, choice on our part.  At some point, it is a choice, that often comes in times of stress, boredom, grief, exhilaration, desperation, insecurity, arrogance, self-entitlement, and any other time we are longing for an escape, or we end up focusing solely on me or my cause.

It is then that the action, or inaction, manifests as sin.

And, as Paul states, once actions of sin, manifest in our life, it festers and soon becomes an automatic response.  We become enslaved by it.

Paul explains our sin problem by starting with the law.  

As Adam and Eve, due to their turning away from God, were expelled from the garden, they were separated from God.  This meant that God was no longer there, walking with them, telling them what would harm them and what was good.  This harm would be in regard to their relationship with him, their relationship with each other, as well as their relationship with all of God’s creation.  So, now, on their own, by their own choice, they were without God’s instruction; no rules, no laws – the wild west.

This is how life was for humanity for the next 3,000 to 4,000 years.  They did not know what was harmful, they did not know their actions that were literally killing them, each other, God’s creation, and especially their relationship with God.

They were the walking dead. Digging themselves into a deeper grave with every action and inaction.

Life was chaos, murder, unfaithfulness, deceit, jealousy, revenge, hopelessness, suspicion, hatred, betrayal, theft, destruction, abuse, threats – all without having been told that these things are harmful and wrong.

In our weekly Bible Project we ask questions, a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions.  Then, after we have exhausted asking the questions we begin searching for answers.  The process is often chaotic, especially on zoom, and sometimes overwhelming. It is not a process for every personality.  Since we began with the book of Genesis in January, we have had one consistent question, that has increasingly become a complaint, and most recently an acknowledgement that the lineage of Jesus includes a very shady group of individuals.  That constant, is the horrible actions and relationship of all most everyone we have encountered in Genesis.  They are a mess, they are miserable, they are mean and often vengeful, they are manipulative and calculating, they are dismissive and neglectful, they are bad parents, they are bad spouses,  they are often, very bad people. 

Last Tuesday Mitch Musgrove, in speaking about this issue and the sad state of affairs in the OT,  said,

‘[Throughout the Old Testament] God is painting us a picture of life without God.’    

Mitch Musgrove

So, after three to four thousand years of this misery of existence, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them the ten commandments, the Law.  How to live. Much more extensive than just ten bullet points it covered everything.

One rabbinical tradition is that the Law, the details of what is harmful or what was healthy, was offered to all nations – however, with the exception of the Israelites, all other nations said that they didn’t want to know what was wrong and harmful because they wanted to keep doing the things they figured would be wrong. They could already assume the the law was going to forbid adultery, murder, and theft, so they passed. They instinctually kind of already knew the error of their ways, but, without the law, they could claim ignorance.

So, now the Israelites knew what was already killing them.

They were no longer ignorant. 

However, now that they knew, this new knowledge, combined with their freedom of choice, put them on a perplexing journey. Their rebellious nature wanted to partake of the forbidden fruit – just life Adam and Eve,  and their new affirmation of right and wrong countered their temptation, this put them in a perplexing dilemma. 

Theologian C.S. Lewis said, 

‘No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.’

C.S. Lewis

So, Paul says the same thing that all of humanity has said for thousands of  years and still says today:

‘I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’  (Romans 7:15b)

 The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, explained our perplexity this way:

“It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that everyday he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.” (Spurgeon) 

A. What is Paul’s manner of dealing with this?

First, he stands on the assurance, that, although we may be weak, God is not:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ 

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)

Second, he adopted a life philosophy: 

‘beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. …for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8-9, 11b)

B. The mistake of religious institutions in regard to sin.

First, we have had the audacity to think that we can stop, control, and eliminate sin. Much of this comes from a misunderstanding of sin and the Law, but it has led to training believers (of all faiths) to be the exact thing we are told not to be – Judgmental and Condemning.  Both of which we do not know how to do without also being hateful, arrogant, and condescending.  Our approach has turned us into the opposite of Christlike.

Second, we have failed to truly understand that sin is just the tip of the iceberg, that it is actually something much different, often times something that could be better addressed with compassion, mercy, justice, grace, and love – however, our approach has been to rank sins without regard to the fact that all sin is a result of a deeper turning away from God and going astray.  We have made those sins that rank highest in our ‘most heinous’ list the ones we focus on – we love the word ‘abomination’.  Giving us even more reasons to judge, condemn, hate, chastise, reject, and basically be very unChristlike.

Third, since our sins are less heinous or are more invisible, we have made ‘Being a Christian’ to be an impossible journey, pushing the labeled sinners into the closet.  Once again, making us very unChristlike.

Fourth, we have missed the opportunity to go out on the journey that Jesus sent his disciples on. A journey to free the oppressed, to heal the sick, to cure diseases, and, as we are there, to tell that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.’ 

C. The Reason for God’s Desire that we Live Right 

Jesus said the reason is:

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly

Jesus (John 10:10b) 

Sin is the killer of right. 

Sin is the killer of mercy.

Sin is the killer of justice.

Sin is the killer of abundance.

God is the perfect father, who desires the best for us.  He does not bait us into sin, nor does he reject us because of sin. He does not desire us to carry around death but, instead, to live in freedom. He want us to live in Joy, that is why he has told us the things that will take away that joy.

Paul, as he explained the law, stressed that our obligation to the law in only until death, in the same way that a woman is obligated to her marriage vow until death of the spouse. So, as Christ died for us, we are not guided by the law, we live in the freedom of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ died, he died our death, therefore we are free.  It is our privilege then to live in the freedom that he secured for us all.

The redemptive nature of grace is not just an eternal thing, it is a now thing.  God’s desire that that we not live in the flux of a perplexing life met with death at every turn.

Jesus is our resurrection from death. Jesus is our life outside of the tomb.

Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in the act of sin,

‘Go and sin no more.’

Jesus (John 8:11b)

He didn’t say this so that she could be forgiven, or acceptable – he said it because he wanted her to have life and to not have to carry that dead body around anymore.

Jesus says the same to us, in order that we too, can live in, and with, that joy.

Our Prayer Together

An expression of gratitude for Love

07.05.20  

God, we thank you for love.  We are grateful that your greatest commandments are all about love.

That make sense as you are love.

We recognize your love in, and all over, your sacrifice of Jesus. You showed us how to love through your actions.

Love always comes out in actions.

We now know that loving others is not a cliche, It is more than a a gooey feeling,

Love calls for sacrifice.

That is what you, O Lord, have shown us through your actions. We now know what your sacrifice looks like,

It looks like grace,

It looks like forgiveness, It looks like mercy, It looks like compassion, It looks like a call for justice, It looks like persevering kindness, It looks like love,

Love extended to all, Love extended for all, Love that is not selfish, Love that is never withheld, Love that motivates our sacrifice, Love that notices others, Love that prompts us to a response of empathy.

Love is Love.

O Lord, there is really no other way to say it,

Love is Love, and, your Love is life. It is the ‘all that I need’ kind of life.

As we adopt your kind of love, we will meet all with your embrace, We will see chaos through your eyes of peace, We will see the needs of a hurting world, We will see the injustice in the streets, We will the pain that precludes violence, We will see the hurt hiding in the shadows, We will see the desperate reaching for any sign of hope, We will see the life you desire that we have, We will see the life you sacrificed for us to live.

God we give thanks for love. O Lord, we give thanks for Your love.

Show us when we are failing to love you, Reveal to us when we are failing to love others.

God, we thank you for Love.

Amen