Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Do We Worship a Vending Machine?

In the library break room where I work, there sits a vending machine. It’s one of those all-in-one deals in which you can get chips, candy, gum, or soda. Temptation calls out to us from behind the Plexiglas, so whenever we give in to our sugar cravings, we follow the unwritten rule of the machine ... do not feed it bills lest they disappear forevermore. Beyond that little quirk, it keeps us happy. We supply silver offerings and it releases sugary delights.

It’s quite predictable: money in, food out.

I got a fascinating reply from a friend of mine last week regarding my last posting. It was in response to my conversation with a day laborer named Jesus who praises God whether or not he finds a job on a given day. My friend wrote me: “This answers, in some ways, the question I've always asked when people tell me why they believe in God: "What is the difference between your good fortune and your faith?"”

Wow. What an awesome question!

Do some of us believe that we’re worshiping a vending machine? Is our faith tied up in what God has done for us lately? Do we praise God because we have money, health, success, family, etcetera, and are happy as a result of our blessings? Or happy that SOMEDAY we’re going to GET something? The vending machine god makes us happy if we feel our petitions are not only heard, but answered as we wish. Like a genie in a bottle.

If our vending machine breaks down and refuses to give us our goodies, the owner get’s it fixed. Do we sometimes feel that God needs some repair work done? I mean, we pray, we give, we serve … are we waiting for a payoff? Is that what heaven’s supposed to be?

I finally get my peanut m&m’s?

The Kingdom of God is not about me.

It’s about what God can do through me. It’s about relationships. It’s about God changing me so that I start to look like Him. So I start acting like Him. So I start having compassion like Him. It’s about yielding our lives to God, “Here I am; do what you wish.” It’s about finding hope, peace, and joy DESPITE our circumstances.

The apostle Paul of Tarsus wrote: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

That’s the difference between faith and good-fortune to me.

Related Verses

James 4:1-3
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Colossians 3:1-17
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Job 1:13-22
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said,
“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!”
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

Job 2:9-10
His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”
But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

God's Too Heavy To Carry Around

I heard Jesus belt out a sermon yesterday.

(This is a different Jesus than the one I gave coffee to a few weeks ago. Jesus seems to be everywhere these days...)

So I’m out giving coffee, and I run into this guy who thanks me and tells me that God’s going to bless me. I’m running late for writer’s group, so I start to turn away.

He stops me.

A profound peace is etched all over this guy’s weathered face. He starts to tell me about how much God has blessed him. We go back and forth about God’s caring nature and our fallen state and I begin to notice something.

Others around him are listening.

They are not listening to the Rev. Joseph Boronat. They are listening to a day laborer named Jesus who praises God whether or not he finds a job on a given day. They listen to him sharing about the need to stay on the right path that God has marked out for us. They gather in when he shares how he experiences joy and fulfillment without money, sex, or alcohol.

The Bible records Jesus of Nazareth stating “The Kingdom of God is already among you.”

How can this be? There is so much anger and disconnection in our world. People have wholeheartedly decided to turn from God and others in the pursuit of their own pleasure. Horrible things happen to people of peace, while the rich seem to get richer and richer.

Maybe there is more to this Kingdom than meets the eye. Maybe this Kingdom grows even now; not by bullets and oppression, but by love and sacrifice.

As I spoke with this day laborer, I was reminded that the LORD is always at work, growing His Kingdom.

And I realized that Christians show unspeakable pride and ignorance when we believe that we can carry God to people. He is already at work in the lives of all.

As a believer in Jesus, I am called to be a witness to what He has done, as well as what He continues to do in my life.

Let us keep our eyes open to see where He wishes for us to join in with Him.

Questions to Ponder

What evidence of the Kingdom of God have I experienced this past week? What opportunities to expand it did I join in with? Where did I fail? What is the next thing god wants me to do?

Related Verses

Luke 17:20-21
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”
Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

John 18:33-38
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

2nd Kings 6:8-23
When the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he would confer with his officers and say, “We will mobilize our forces at such and such a place.”
But immediately Elisha, the man of God, would warn the king of Israel, “Do not go near that place, for the Arameans are planning to mobilize their troops there.” So the king of Israel would send word to the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he would be on the alert there.
The king of Aram became very upset over this. He called his officers together and demanded, “Which of you is the traitor? Who has been informing the king of Israel of my plans?”
“It’s not us, my lord the king,” one of the officers replied. “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!”
“Go and find out where he is,” the king commanded, “so I can send troops to seize him.”
And the report came back: “Elisha is at Dothan.” So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city.
When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.
“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.
As the Aramean army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, please make them blind.” So the LORD struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.
Then Elisha went out and told them, “You have come the wrong way! This isn’t the right city! Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to the city of Samaria.
As soon as they had entered Samaria, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, now open their eyes and let them see.” So the LORD opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria.
When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted to Elisha, “My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?”
“Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.”
So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home to their master. After that, the Aramean raiders stayed away from the land of Israel.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Anti-Religion

I was raised in a very religious household.

We went to a service EVERY Sunday without fail. Every Sunday that is, with one exception. One time, when my dad had taken us out camping in the Florida Keys, they only had a Protestant service within walking distance. My mom wasn’t exactly thrilled when she found out that I had attended a Baptist service, but apparently not too much damage was done. At least for the time being.

She told us we were doing our part for God. He gave us life and everything else, so the least we could sacrifice was an hour a week to honor Him.
That, AND follow the Ten Commandments.

I don’t know if my mom still keeps the china plate hanging in the house, but it still hangs in my memory. It was a plain white plate, with a golden edge. It listed the Ten Big Ones in somewhat plain English.

Over and over, she would state that we needed to live the “Christian life”. In other words, “follow these rules and you’ll do fine”. But I wasn’t fine.
I experienced a good deal of paranoia in this “system”. My spiritual life depended on a very tenuous course of action. You follow the rules; God loves you. You break the rules long enough, you go to hell. This yo-yo spirituality lasted for years.

Not exactly what I’d call “Good News.”

Then I met Jesus one day and all this changed.

My life turned when I finally gave in and surrendered my life to Him. It was the beginning of a new relationship. I was through with religion. I finally understood why Jesus had to die on a cross and why He had to rise from the dead. With that in mind, I put all my faith on that two-thousand year old piece of wood. He achieved what I never could. Instead of trying to earn love from a capricious higher being by doing a set of good works (while avoiding the bad ones), I discovered that all God wanted from me was … everything. I discovered that He was personal and intimate. I found out that He really wanted to live life with me.

That He loved me.

That thanks to the cross, I was forgiven for my many failings.

My life now is different than it was before. Whereas I used to fret about where I stood with my Creator, I now wake up with hope and go to sleep with peace. I am learning what it means to walk with God. I am seeing Him at work, building a Kingdom unlike the world has ever experienced. And I see Him at work (when I let Him) remaking me; not into a mindless robot or devotee, but He is creating ME. Who I am supposed to be. Finding my place in His plan. I see others on this journey. I see people connecting to this Savior, this Kingdom.

And that’s what I call the “Good News.”

Questions to Ponder
Think of an event or relationship that changed your life. How has your life been shaped by that encounter? Like ripples long after a pebble has disappeared beneath the waves, does your life still reflect that moment? Why or why not?

Related Verses

Psalm 96
Sing a new song to the LORD!
Let the whole earth sing to the LORD!
Sing to the LORD; praise his name.
Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods.
The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the LORD made the heavens!
Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and beauty fill his sanctuary.
O nations of the world, recognize the LORD;
recognize that the LORD is glorious and strong.
Give to the LORD the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in all his holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before him.
Tell all the nations, “The LORD reigns!”
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
He will judge all peoples fairly.
Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise
before the LORD, for he is coming!
He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with his truth.

Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
for the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the LORD’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the LORD has planted for his own glory.

John 9:24-25
So for the second time (the religious leaders) called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”
“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Here Come Da Judge

We quietly milled around the outside of the courtroom like cattle about to enter the slaughterhouse. Call me naïve, but I was kinda hoping that I was going to walk in for the appointment noted on my ticket, plead my case, and walk out.


Adding to my anxiety was the fact that I had parked in a one hour spot a block away. One hour.

We were led into a large room with rows upon rows of chairs. The room was pretty plain except for the wood paneling on the far wall behind where the judge would take his seat, which he did. A parade of humanity came before him. Some dressed in suits, others came with humbler wardrobes. Some had counsel, others had translators; all had offenses. Reckless driving, jaywalking, driving without a license, felony drug charges, following too closely: and me with an expired inspection sticker.

I’m not into the whole court scene so I wondered how I was going to plead guilty but request the charges to be dropped. There was a person who ran a stop sign. The judge stated his fine without blinking an eye.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the following person’s offense. Expired inspection sticker! I leaned in to make sure I saw how to proceed. The judge looked over the facts and asked why she came today. Was she expecting to get it dismissed just because they got an inspection? While my sticker had expired only two weeks before getting stopped, hers had expired a few months prior. The judge had mercy on her.

My name was called next. With renewed hope, I succeeded in making my way out of the row without tripping and walked up to the podium.

“You should thank the officer here for stopping you so soon,” he said. I turned to the officer and thanked him. The charges were dismissed and I was free once more.

It feels great to be forgiven. This morning, this VERY morning, I was reading the twentieth chapter in the last book of the Bible, Revelations. Here’s what I read:

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.

What struck me this morning was the fact that EVERY person will be judged. All of us, no matter how noble or how twisted we’ve lived … and yet, there’s hope that the charges will be dismissed. This Book of Life is not some document bearing the names of those who are good enough. It is the testimony of those who have passed from death to life. Jesus came, died, and rose from the dead to give us this hope. It is a pity that more people who profess to believe this don’t live it out in their lives.

The next few weeks we’ll be talking about good news. More importantly, we’ll be discussing how this good news, this belief that the Kingdom of God is near, should impact our lives and those around us.

What is the best news you have ever heard? What does forgiveness feel like? When something special happens to you, how do you share it?

I quickly walked back to my car; it was approximately an hour since I had left it there.

No ticket!