A Pastor’s Prayer Journey

Two Preachers Sharing Prayers & Scripture

How to live in a declining culture

 

“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” Matthew 5:14, The Message

Exodus 19:5-6

 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you[a] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites

 

1 Peter 2:9-10

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Recently I saw a survey which really caught my attention. According to the survey 87 percent of Americans say they believe in God while 52 percent said they believed the Bible is God’s authoritative word. Now the statistic which shocked me the most is that only 36 percent believed that one should live by these principles. In other words 2/3 of Americans(most who would claim to believe in God) believe that God’s word plays no part in how they live their lives. These statistics really should not surprise us. The once favored status which the Bible and God had within American culture is a thing of the past.   There is a great debate amongst many on the idea that our nation was founded as a Christian nation. Whether this is accurate or not, it is true that our nation was founded by people with strong and moral convictions which could be found in the Bible. This is not to say that our early founders were always moral people but that they at least held the Bible in high regard when it came to forming laws and shaping culture. It may be safe to say that the hold the Bible held on our culture is now a thing of the past. We only have to look at what Americans now believe about some of the moral issues of the day. Maybe the one moral issue which stands out the most which reminds us that the Bible is losing its hold on culture is what Americans believe about homosexuality and gay marriage. Over 60% of Americans believe that homosexuality is ok. 73% percent believe that gay marriage will be accepted in all 50 states at some point. These numbers have risen drastically in just a few short years and will probably continue to rise as media and politicians have taken on the cause of these lifestyles. So what should be the Christian response to our culture which is becoming more anti-God?

Fortunately the Bible has a lot to say about how we can live in a broken culture. Matter of fact when many of the Bible writers both Old & New Testament wrote encouragement to believers in how to live for God, it was written in cultures which were very hostile towards the God of the Bible. Yet God gave these holy men instruction in how we could live. In Exodus we learn that God is wanting his people to become a kingdom of priest. This idea of being a holy priesthood starts with Moses but sees it’s fulfillment in the church when Peter calls the church a chosen people and royal priesthood. The Holy nation which Peter talks about is not some nation with particular political boundaries but a called out people who would cross all national boundaries.   During Peter’s time Rome was a blood thirsty, pagan worshipping, spiritually depleted society. Peter’s advice to the church in this non- Christian culture was for the church to simply be a holy priesthood. So what does a Holy priesthood look like? To understand this we simply need to know a few characteristics of priest in the Old Testament.   I have listed a few of these now.

First Priest were servants. Unlike any other calling in the Old Testament the priest were truly servants of the people of God. When the land was divided up amongst the 12 tribes each tribe got land except the tribe of Levi. God had a special plan for them. They were not to own land but simply be freed up to serve throughout the whole nation. They were servants who performed the sacrifices for the people. They did not get caught up in the affairs of daily life but simply served the people in front of them. Sometimes you and I(and I put heavy emphasis on I because I am the worst offender) get caught up with everything that goes on in our culture. I get caught up with the politics of the day and the debates which go on in the media. I am not saying that these issues are not important but if we are going to be a holy priesthood than we simply need to spend more time serving and lest time debating. Jesus himself spent little time if any debating the politics of Rome. Jesus washed feet and healed the sick. Jesus fed the hungry and encouraged the broken.   Priesthood is about serving people. Who can you serve today?

Secondly priest were mediators. Maybe one of the highest callings for the priesthood is that they were the go between for Israel and God. When people needed to make atonement for their sins they would bring an offering or sacrifice before the priest so that he could offer it to God on their behalf. Each year one priest had the honor and responsibility of being the high priest for the nation. The high priest would go once a year into the Holy of Holies and represent God’s people seeking forgiveness for the nation. When Peter said we were to be a holy priesthood a great part of this ministry was to be a mediator for people. We no longer have to offer up sacrifices for the sins of people but we certainly can lift up prayers for those in the World. When is the last time you prayed for a political figure? How many of us are asking God to change the hearts of those in Hollywood to make movies which honor God? When is the last time you have prayed for and invited your friends to church? Prayer for the lost and those who govern us are a huge way that we can be priest for God in our broken culture.

Finally priest were proclaimers. Not only did they perform sacrifices for people in the Old Testament but they were looked to for direction in knowing the will of God. Priest made clear God’s word and direction for people. Today as a royal priesthood we have an obligation to proclaim the good news. Christians are to be heralds who “proclaim the Lords death until he comes”(1 Cor. 11:26) This proclamation is not simply sharing that Jesus died to the World but explaining its implication for the World. The World needs to know that there is hope in our brokenness. People need to know that Jesus is the answer to their deepest need of intimacy and fellowship. Jesus is the answer to the problem of everything wrong and ultimately Jesus is the answer to the problem of death. Are you proclaiming the good news?

One of my favorite illustrations recently was one by John Howard Yoder a 20th century theologian. Yoder was trying to explain the role of Christians as priest within our society. He said Christians are like musicians at a concert. Their greatest role is to play their instrument. It would be foolish of them to step down from playing their instrument to help usher people into the auditorium. Certainly the usher is an important role but without the musician there is no concert. There are a lot of things you and I can be doing in this World. But the one thing the church cannot afford to give up is its role as a holy priesthood. We are needed to bring light into our culture. My prayer is we will take our calling to be priest as top priority in our lives.

 

Heart of God says Go!

Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

“It is true that God may have called you to be exactly where you are. But, it is absolutely vital to grasp that he didn’t call you there so you could settle in and live your life in comfort and superficial peace.” Francis Chan

Well the big announcement has been made. Harvest in 6 months will be planting a new church on the south side of Muncie. Certainly there are a lot of emotions floating around within the Harvest family. Personally I am excited but also nervous at the same time. I know that since the inception of Harvest we have always said that we will be a church planting church. Now we are putting wheels to our words as we step out in faith. This decision is one in which all your shepherds are united and in agreement that the Holy Spirit has called us to go forward with this plan. As we move forward I wanted to share with you something which I believe is at the very heart of God. It is simply one word which describes not only God’s heart but also describes what he wants us to do both corporately and individually in our walk with Him. It is the word “Go.” A simple survey through the Bible reminds us that God has always been about going and always commands his people to go. In the rest of this study I want to show you how this theme of “going” is very prevalent throughout the Bible and at the heart of God. My hope as you read this is that it will cause you to spend more time reflecting on God and the heart he wants you to have as it pertains to this idea of going. To understand God’s heart of going we must take a look at this idea beginning in Genesis and moving through the rest of the Bible.

The Bible starts out in Genesis 1:1 by saying that “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth”. This is the first statement of “going” on God’s part. Going implies that you have a starting point and you move forward to another place. We do not know what God’s existence looked like before creation, but we know that creation was the starting point and God moved forward with his great plan of fellowship with mankind. Immediately following creation God than calls mankind to “go” as well. In Genesis 1:28 God says, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” Mankind was called to go all over the Earth. It can be said that according to Genesis 1 & 2 that the human race could go wherever they wanted except to the tree of knowledge of good & evil. Unfortunately we did not do so well at listening to directions as we went and mankind would have to take a detour which would seemingly bring a stop to our going. The good news is that God in Genesis 3 got us going again by putting into action a plan of going which would restore what was lost in the garden. Let’s look some more at this plan.

From Genesis 4 through Genesis 11 God’s plan of going seems to get lost in the wickedness of mankind. The Earth during the time of Noah had become very wicked and evil to the point in which God decided that he was going to start over by cleansing the earth of all life except for Noah and his family and a boat load of animals. Shortly after the flood God tells Noah and his family in Genesis 9:1 to go and be fruitful and fill the earth. In Genesis 12 God’s plan of going will kick into high gear through Abram and Sarai. Abram loved God. As a result God tells Abram in Genesis 12:1-3
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God’s word to Abram is to go. He is called to leave everything which he knew and go to a place God would show Him. It is in his going which God will build a kingdom(Israel) which would go and be a blessing to the World and eventually usher in the one(Jesus) who through his going would build another kingdom(the church) which would reverse the damage done in the garden. The rest of the Old Testament is simply a story of Israel’s success and failures to go as God had commanded. Let’s take a quick look in the New Testament at this theme of “Going.”

Certainly the most evident form of going is in the fact that Jesus left the comforts of home and came to Earth. Jesus coming to Earth was a fulfillment of prophesy in Genesis 12 in which the whole earth would be blessed through the seed of Abraham. During Jesus earthly ministry he was always on the go. He never seemed to stop. Only when Jesus was crucified was there a pause in the going. But this was only temporary as we all know. When Jesus rose from the grave he conquered sin and death. The curse of the garden had been defeated. Mankind could once again be at peace with God. The old was gone the new had come into existence. There was only one problem with Jesus astounding victory over death. Very few people knew about it. Except for a hand full of followers the rest of the World was still on a path leading to destruction. Certainly this was not what God had intended when he told Abram thousands of years earlier to go so that the whole World would be blessed. In Matthew 28:18 -20 we learn that God did have in mind to bless the whole World. Listen what he tells the early disciples
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In Acts 1:8 God tells the early believers that the Holy Spirit would come and give them power in their going. Throughout the rest of the book of Acts we see the church going throughout the World spreading the hope of Jesus. When the church got comfortable and stopped going that is when God would send some type of persecution to get them to going again. It is safe to say that the theme of going has always been God’s plan from the Old Testament and now into the New Testament era which you and I are participants in.

So what does all this mean to us? In the easiest terms I know it means you and I are still called to go. Anything short of going is a deviation from God’s heart and his purpose for our lives. God wants us to go and spread his message of hope throughout Muncie and the World. We can spend a lot of time, money and energy doing a lot of things in this life which is far from the heart of God. Good things can become bad if they are not about going. Selfishly we can get comfortable in our walks when we stop going.

My prayer for Harvest is that we will go. I pray that we go by sharing the good news of Christ to our friends and neighbors. I pray we will go by investing more resources, time and energy into the missions we partner with. I pray that whether in six months we worship at Harvest or Harvest South or even somewhere else that we will go full throttle for the Lord. God has called you to Go! Will you go?

God still performs Miracles

I am usually a skeptic when people talk about miracles. I do believe in them. Anyhow God moved in an  amazing way. I have posted my daughters miracle. God moves! 

My Miracle (:

by Ashley Rawls on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:27pm

For those of you who don’t know, on December 10th we were playing our biggest rival, Yorktown. I subbed into the game early in the first quarter and made it two or three times down the floor, but on the fourth time I had a terrible accident. I went to drive hard down the lane, planted my right foot hard as a defender stopped my drive, and when I turned to kick out to the opposite corner my knee went but my foot didn’t. I heard (and felt) a loud pop as my knee hit the ground. When I tried to stand back up, I put pressure on my right foot and I felt my kneecap start to shake violently on its own inside my leg. I was shocked, but didn’t want to cry on the court. The official stopped the game and trainers came running on to the court. My teammate, Sam, carried me off the court along with the trainer who took me to his office. Misty (Delta’s trainer), Kevin (Yorktown’s trainer), and a few student trainers all examined me. Misty said, “Did you hear a pop?” I nodded. “You’re gonna need to go to Central Indiana Orthopedics to get this checked out, but don’t be surprised if he says it’s a torn ACL.” I started bawling at this point. I knew that meant I wouldn’t be able to play anymore, let alone run track. That part sucked the most for me.

I went the following Monday to see Dr. Hunt at CIO. When we got there, the lady at the front desk informed us that our insurance company had been dropped and that I would have to go to the ER instead…. who would simply send us back to CIO. In other words, I wasn’t going to be seen. My mom mentioned that Misty had called ahead and told Dr. Hunt I would be coming in. She called back and Dr. Hunt said that he wanted to see me. He then examined me, told me that my ACL was indeed torn and that a MRI would be needed to determine things about my meniscus. I cried some more. We asked him about how we were supposed to pay for our visit since it wasn’t covered on our insurance, and he said he would take care of it. (Miracle #1!)

I went in for my MRI on January 6th. The results came soon after, and it was determined that I had torn my ACL, sprained my MCL, and torn my meniscus. A consultation was set up to meet with Dr. Matchett who would be performing the surgery that was required. When we met with Dr. Matchett, we asked him again about our insurance. He said that I may have to be sent over to the hospital for my surgery instead of CIO, which he commented “Doesn’t run like a well-olied machine.” which of course made me a little nervous. Dr. Matchett went to go check on the surgery and came back 45 minutes later after calling our insurance companies, the hospital, and talking with other important people, and informed us that they were going to be able to perform my surgery at CIO! (Miracle #2)

For the next month, I recovered, and in the days leading up to surgery, I was able to run, jump, dance.. most everything. So many of you prayed for me and I was just so thankful for those prayers. I was nervous when the nurse called a week before surgery telling me that I would need anesthetics, a nerve blocker, and a catheter. They told me that this was no simple surgery, because they would basically be reconstructing most of my knee. I was so comforted by all the prayers, cards, calls, texts, the prayer blanket etc. that I got from all of my friends and family. It really comforted me, and by surgery day, I wasn’t even scared.

I went in this morning around 7 and Randy was there to meet me which was really nice and comforting as well. The nurse called me back and hooked me up to an IV, I met the anesthesiologist and Dr. Matchett again, and told me they were going to put me out so I should say bye. I just remember talking to my mom about my first grade class at Royerton and the cute cards they made me. He said, “You should start feeling very sleeping in 30 seconds or so.” That’s all I remember. I was out!

I woke up and remember looking at the clock… It was only 10:30? They had said I may not be awake until close to eleven. I looked over and my mom kept trying to tell me this nonsense that my ACL was not torn anymore. And I thought… well duh, they just cut open my whole knee to fix it. I kept asking her how my ACL was okay, and she said the surgeon walked in the waiting room only an hour after he had started and had asked my parents, “Do you believe in miracles?” When they said yes, and he replied, “Well, good because that’s the only way I can explain this.” He told them that when he went in, my ACL was COMPLETELY healed. He said he has never seen anything like it in all of his years of performing ACL surgeries.. which he’s been around for awhile. All of the graphs, MRI, and all tests showed that I had definitely torn my ACL. Just looking at the pictures from my MRI, you could tell that it was completely gone. Not a single doubt. Just a quick anatomy lesson: The Anterior Crucial Ligament is physically uncapable of healing on its own. It is literally impossible… outside God that is. I guess after coming off the medicine I asked like a thousand times how that was possible, and my mom just kept saying it was a God thing… it was so amazing. (MIRACLE #3)

Because he only went in to repair my meniscus, I have 3 small incisions instead of one long one. Also, the recovery time will be 6-8 weeks instead of 4-6 months, which means I can run trackkk!!! No catheter, no ice machine, no motion machine, and the pain is a billion times less than an ACL surgery(: (Miracle #4)

I’m just so overwhelmed by God right now. He is so good. I don’t know why I’m still so shocked by this. A lot of times, I’ll pray and pray and pray for a miracle, but in my mind I don’t have much faith because I am also a very realistically logical person. God blew me away. It was torn a month ago – clearly – from the MRI and all of the pictures, there was no doubt. And now it is completely healed?! God beat Dr. Matchett to it I guess(:

So thank you everyone for all of your prayers. God has done something BIG and I’m so glad I got to be apart of it. I know that God has bigger plans for me in my life. ❤

The Biggest Loser: The good & bad

Normally I am not interested in reality shows.   I find they are a waste of time and usually promote values I have no interest in.  Yet I find that for the last 3 seasons I have been drawn to the The Biggest Loser.  I am certain that a great part of my interest has to do with the fact that I have struggled with my weight for many years.  Just 3 years ago I decided it was time to do something about my enormous 355 pound body.  Through prayer, diet, exercise I lost over 120 pounds.  Over this last few years I have run several 1/2 marathons as well as completed a full marathon last year.  My road to recovery has not been easy but it has been a road that many face.  Hence my journey has made me more aware of those who struggle with their weight.  Just for fun I thought I would share some thoughts of the good & bad I have found in the Biggest Loser TV show.  Let’s start with the good.

The Biggest Loser is one of the more inspiring shows on television.  It takes broken people(in this case obese people) and helps them get on to the road to recovery.  Or maybe a better way to say this is that this show redeems them.  Now I do not want to confuse what Jesus has done on the cross with how people regain their health.   I know that there is a difference but here is the similarity.  Just as redemption gives us life back from the dead so our health when we take charge of it helps us to regain a huge part of our physical life.  Just by making certain health changes contestants on the show are able to do things physically they never imagined, they are able to get rid of pills that are causing them harm, and over all they have a better out look on life.

Possibly the greatest aspect of the show is that we are reminded that it is never to late to make changes in our lives.  This last years show is proof of this.  Several of the oldest participants on the show lost the most significant amounts of weight.  To see a man in his 60’s who had been obese for years drop half his weight was incredible.  Even the winner at 48 years of age beat out many of the young guns who were more athletic and who had more weight to lose.  Being that I am in my mid 40’s I am reminded it is never to late to make changes in my life.  Certainly there are more good things about this show but let me change gears now.

Certainly with all the good that comes from this show it would be hard to find something bad.  Well I don’t want to be a barrier of bad news but there are somethings about the show that are disturbing.  Probably the greatest problem with the show is the pseudo belief that our identity comes from how big or how fit we are.   Each week as I watched and even celebrated with people who lost their weight I also was disturbed by how much their identity was tied up in their size.  Their was talk about being made new or I will never be the same, or I got my life back.  I understand many of these statements and have even caught myself saying them from time to time as I lost my weight.  But the reality is that losing weight or gaining it does not make a person new.  Our identity and how we see ourselves must not come from the World’s standards but from Gods.  We are a new creation no matter what our size if we give our lives to Christ.   Sadly losing weight does not change the real person.  Certainly we can feel better about ourselves but if their is no change in our hearts than we are still the same people.

The Spiritual answer to the Health issue: Ownership

It is no secret, Americans are unhealthy.  Just look around you people are getting wider and sicker by the day.  Shows like the Biggest Loser” are a hit because Americans are trying to find answers to many of their healthy issues.  For the longest time I have believed that when it came to health it was really a matter of luck.  Some people were lucky and had no health problems and others were unlucky and had all kinds of health problems.   We have believed that diseases pick and chose people at random.  Spiritually speaking their are very few voices who seem to believe that health and diet are related to the spiritual.  We believe that God created a healthy World but once the fall came we basically had no more instructions on how to live our lives.  Sadly I believe we have done ourselves a disservice in the church by believing that God has nothing to say about health.   Not too long ago I believed this as well.  I believed that my health really had nothing to do with God.  But the more I try to understand God I have come to the realization that God is concerned about my health.  Matter of fact I believe that many of the health problems we face today are a result of not understanding one word.  Ownership.  Let me see if I can simplify this by sharing my personal journey.

3 years ago I had a little health crisis in my life.  I weighed nearly 355 lbs.  By all definitions I was obese.  I have nobody but myself to blame.  My eating was out of control.   To deal with my health problems I began to put myself on a diet.  I wanted to lose the weight so I could get in shape.  But the problem that haunted me was what was I going to do different this time that I had not done in the past.  I have tried many diets and have lost weight only to gain back the weight that I had lost.  Knowing that I needed help beyond myself I turned to God.  Oh it was not immediate nor deliberate turn but I kept seeking him more and more on this issue.   During this time God began to reveal something to me that I realized that was missing in my life.   I had been dieting for all the wrong reasons in the past.  Matter of fact when I looked at why I wanted to lose weight in the first place I realized how selfish my intention were and how they had nothing to do with God.  Why did I want to lose weight?  Well I could say that it was to be healthy, but that was still a selfish motive.  It was all about me.  What God revealed to me was something which we do not hear from many churches, if their are churches at all sharing this message.   So what has God shared with me.  It is that word:  Ownership

When I was 21 years of age I surrendered my life to Jesus.  I told him that my life was His.  He was my master.  Now some 23 years later I realized that I surrendered a lot of areas in my life but I did not give all to Him.  I still had ownership over my body.  Oh I knew that having sex outside of marriage defiled his temple but what about my health.  Did this have anything to do with God’s temple?  Here is the realization that I came to.  For many years I lost weight for me.  I wanted to be healthy, I wanted to look good, I wanted to be in shape, I wanted to do all these things for me.   But I never asked the question of what do you want for me God?  You see if my body really is God’s than I should be healthy not for me but because God wants a temple that is fit and shape to carry on his work.  Oh I know that we are in a fallen world and that our bodies will break down but many of us including myself are destroying God’s temple well before it would naturally break down. Ultimately we should do everything not for ourselves but for God.  If He is the true owner than I lose the weight not for my benefit but how it will benefit the kingdom.   Imagine if Christians decide to make God the owner of their bodies when it comes to their physical health,  this would make a major impact in the World.   Many health problems that are related to obesity would disappear.   Even those not related to Obesity would change because we would eat better and exercise more and live healthier and the whole time giving credit to the one who owned us.  Jesus.

I am certain that many of my readers are already objecting and thinking about all the freedom that we have in God’s grace to live like we want.  Well first and formost God’s grace does not allow us to live like we want.  It certainly covers our sins but God’s desire is for us to commit everything to Him.  Our health is part of everything.  God calls us to live disciplined lives.  When we are obedienent to Him God bestows blessings on us.  I am certain that if we give ownership of our health to God we will see a healthier and more vibrant church.  I would love to hear from you on this issue.  Let me hear your thoughts.  Thanks

The Grace of Being Broke

In the course of some reading this afternoon in preparation for a blog post on Matthew 13, I read the following paragraphs from Capon’s wonderful book The Parables of the Kingdom.

These paragraphs speak to the untidy nature of the parables and strange nature of the God whose Kingdom is spoken of by Jesus. God, as it turns out, turns all of our notions about himself upside down and inside out. We do not get from him what we might expect, and he does not give to us as we might desire. Those who are first are last and those who are last are first.

It is this strange way of grace that keeps us anchored to him. It is his own strangeness that keeps us coming back to his well of grace. We know that even if all else fails, grace will not.

“In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we find him addressing a group of people who are smugly content in their confidence that they are upstanding citizens—and who are convinced that anyone not exactly like themselves has no chance of making it into God’s guest register. So he tells them the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Note not only what an insulting story it is, but also how small the prospects are that his audience will ever be able to get past its details to its point. Far from being an illustrations that shines an understanding they already have on something they haven’t figured out, it is one that is guaranteed to pop every circuit break in their minds.

“God, Jesus informs them, is not the least bit interested in their wonderful lists of moral and religious accomplishments. Imagine the scene for a moment. You can almost hear the reaction forming in their minds: ‘What do you mean, God’s not interested? We have read the Scriptures—with particular attention to the commandments. We happen to know he is absolutely wild about fasting, tithing, and not committing adultery.’ But Jesus ignores them and presses the parable for all it’s worth. Not only is God going to take a dim view of all their high scores in the behaving competition; he is, in fact, going to bestow the gold medal on an out-and-out crook who just waltzes into the temple, stares at his shoelaces, and does nothing more than admit as much” (7).

So you can be reminded of what Jesus said that day and why Capon’s words are so important:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The trouble with this parable is in the assumption that we know who Jesus is speaking to (‘those who were confident in their own righteousness’) and the assigning of roles. This is exactly what we must not do with this parable. It’s too easy to do so. It’s too easy to know exactly who is the publican and who is the sinner and the minute we start assigning roles we have ceased being a player (either a publican or a tax-collector) and started being the one who justifies one and not the other (i.e., God). It is only God who justifies and therefore only God who can assign roles.

Jesus didn’t tell this parable to us so that we would take it upon ourselves to assign roles. He told it to us so that we would recognize the grace of God. What is amazing is that the grace of God was available to both the publican and the tax-collector, but one understood it and the other did not. That is, the publican thought he deserved it because of all his righteous acts; the tax-collector did not even though he begged for it on the slim chance that there might be some for him.

Those who are warped by the grace of God get this, sort of. These are the ones who come before God singing ‘nothing in my hands I bring simply to the cross I cling.’ They recognize that they are broke, broken, and full of brokenness. They recognize that before God they are empty and need everything. These ones fall on their faces saying, “God what do you have for me?”

Those untouched by grace do not get it. They are the ones who come before God with a laundry list of their accomplishments and gifts and achievements talking out loud to God and saying, “God what can I give to you?” They have to do this because, as people who have everything already, there is nothing left for God to give them. They don’t need his grace because they don’t want it. They don’t want his grace because they don’t need it.

So God turns upside down and inside out notions of who he is and what his kingdom is like. It’s certainly nothing like we might expect. His is a kingdom where it is far better to be broke than it is to be fixed, far better to be empty than filled, far better to be the sinner than the righteous.

With each passing day, grace becomes more and more alive to those who are willing to cast all of their life on Jesus who can and does what we can’t and won’t. Grace. A sweet word. A sweet sound.

____________________

Father, I have no business coming before you. I have no business asking you for anything. Why would you want me, a disfigured and maimed sacrifice, to come into your Holiness? And yet…and yet…have you not made a way through Christ? Have you not invited me in to worship and pray and commune with you?

I don’t even know if you expect me to recognize that I am one and not the other. In all likelihood, I am the publican. I’d rather come before you with a list of accomplishments than a list of needs. I’d rather brag to you of all I have done than to be like Jesus and cast myself on your grace and cry out, “Give us this day, your will, your name, your kingdom, forgive us, lead us not.” I’d rather tell you about all the right things I did than all the wrong things. I’d rather take the focus off of you and your grace and redirect it to myself. I’d rather you not even look at that fellow over there who is in such obviously bad shape–why look at him and all his misery when you can look at me in all my perfection?

Am I not your type? Help me, by your grace, to see myself for who I am so that I will recognize that I need your grace. And, Father, pour out your grace in abundance. Spare me not, Abba. Spare not a drop, Papa. Spare not a drop.

Forgive me Father. This is all I can ask. Even though I am the Publican and I am, too ,the Tax-Collector. Have mercy on me, Father, a sinner. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. Have mercy.

Amen.

Facebook Christianity

Do you remember the days when you called a business and actually talked to someone instead of a recording?  I can still remember them vividly.  Oh what a joy to be able to actually talk to a live person.  Oh I know I am getting old and bucking against the advancement of society.  I suppose my kids will do the same at some point when they get older and begin to scoff at the latest inventions.  Anyhow they have to wait because it is my time to speak.

I am always blown away by how we continue to advance in communication and ways in which we communicate.  Think about e-mail and it’s ability to communicate and send information all around the World in a matter of seconds, it is amazing.  When I first started using e-mail my first thought was how this could be a blessing to missionaries in sending and receiving information.  Of course we have advanced well beyond email now.  We can instant message and even facebook with old friends that we have not spoken to in years.

I suppose this is where I want to begin.  As much as I am amazed by our advancements within technology and especially in the area of communication, I am finding that our communication even though it is more it has actually become less.  No longer do we sit down to talk to someone in person.  We might IM them or send them a e-mail to save ourselves some time, but personal touch has disappeared.  I find it funny that many times we will not say a word to people at church but will bare our soul to the world wide web.  I understand the reasoning  behind this.  It is very easy to hide behind a keyboard.  But I believe that “facebook Christianity”  is really damaging to us spiritually.

In a day and age where the World seems more and more disoriented and broken the one thing we do not need is the ability to hide.  Now hopefully you hear me.  I am not opposed to such things as facebook or blogging or the Internet in general.  Actually I am excited about them.  Yet I am convinced that as a church we must have personal contact to make an impact for the Lord.  People do not need a recording of how to find Jesus they need to see Jesus in us.  Ministry will only be effective as we place our touch on people’s lives.  As I once told a friend, “please call me when you want to talk rather than e-mail.”

Just as pornography is a cheap imitation of the real thing that God has meant for good, I believe that our new ways of communication can be cheap imitations for something that can be a whole lot better.  Next time you have something important to say to someone let me encourage you to call them rather than e-mail or even better yet go and share a cup of coffee with them.   If your concern is time just think of how much time you would save by not sending them all that forwarded garbage you send.  And anyways doesn’t it say a lot more when someone cares enough to actually speak to you in person.  Yes the World is advancing.  And I am sure that automated voices will solve many of our problems, but oh how I yearn to hear a real voice from time to time.