bad economics

I’m not sure how many households that read this still hold on the magic of Santa, but if you are one of those households and you are reading this out loud to your children (although I am not sure why you would) you may want to hit the pause button. That being said, this morning my 10-yr-old and I were having a conversation whereupon he made it known that he would like an in-ground pool for his birthday. After spraying the living room with the sip of coffee I had just taken, I quickly explained to him that an in-ground pool costs roughly about $20,000. He thought for a moment and then announced that he would just ask Santa. Being relatively quick on my feet I responded that Santa kind of works based on our economies. He really can only bring us what we already can afford. He thought for a moment and then said, ‘well what about an above ground pool?’

I love the imagination that surrounds childhood and the acquisition of stuff. They really don’t get economics and how things work. You have to earn a certain amount of money to be able to afford certain things. Someone else who really didn’t get economics was Jesus. There’s a parable he tells in Matthew 20 about some workers in a vineyard who are hired at different parts of the day. And those who worked one solitary hour got the same amount of pay as those who had worked all day. It really didn’t make any sense at all and it infuriated those who had worked all day to ‘get what they deserved’. Then he ends the parable with this statement, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20:16 I think Jesus must have been confused. You see, those who are first are first. Those who work the hardest to achieve what they deserve should get everything they work for. Those who come sliding in at the last moment do not deserve the same reward as those who have worked so much harder.

But Jesus began this parable with a statement that often ushered in his stories that didn’t always make sense. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” The Kingdom of Heaven. It’s one of those phrases is scripture that we have a hard time wrapping our heads around because it is now and it is coming. It is present and yet it’s not yet here. But what it truly is, is. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is an alternate reality to the reality we find ourselves in. In this Kingdom the lowly are exalted and the exalted have to learn to become lowly. The last become first and the first must become like the last. In this economy one is praised for losing their life and if they try to save their life on their own they are missing out. Jesus says to us, ‘Your effort to save your own skin is void, the only real effort you must put forward is to lose your life on behalf of those around you’. Grace shows us that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, but all of our efforts should go to seeing those around us, even the last, lowly, meek, poor, outcasts, etc. know what grace looks like. The economy of mercy doesn’t make sense in this world sometimes, but it really is the only economy that matters. May you find yourself caught up in bad economics today as you extend the grace that none of us could ever deserve.


wasted breath

I’ve always loved fireworks. From the smallest sparklers and firecrackers to the amazing displays that occur around major holidays, I’ve always found myself mesmerized. I even remember the first time my dad let me save up my money to buy my own fireworks. This would even become an annual event for me until I realized one year how expensive these things were and how I was literally setting my hard earned money on fire. Then there was this one time my family and I were invited to a fourth of July party being thrown by some friends of ours who happened to be wealth management advisors. I’ll never forget the joke I tried to crack by going up to one of them. “It really doesn’t say a whole lot for your stock broker when he is literally setting money on fire”. Without missing a beat, this was the response, “It’s not our money”. It kind of makes you wonder whether or not stock brokers are always the best stewards of your resources.

But all kidding aside, stewardship is one of the most oft talked about themes in scripture and yet we sometimes simply think about it pertaining to our financial resources. But stewardship is better understood as a means of management of any gift that we receive. And so if we want to understand it better, we have to go all the way back to the beginning. In the second chapter of Genesis we read about the first gift that man ever receives over which we become stewards. “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7 The very first gift we are given is breath; the breath of life. The same breath in our lungs that empowers our speech and gives action to our words and sounds is a gift from God.

The problem is that at times we have not been the best stewards of this gift. This same breath that empowers our speech and gives us the ability for action has often been used to push others away or make them feel less like the sons and daughters of God they were meant to be. In his epistle, James puts it this way, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” – James 3:9-10 Our breath is a gift…our first gift and we are required to be good stewards of it. And don’t simply think that this pertains to audible speech only. The very words that we type, the posts that we share, the emails that we send, the texts spouted out are all embodiment of the breath of life that God has given to us. So are you being a good steward today? Are you managing this amazing gift you have been given to glorify God and draw others closer to him or has it become wasted breath? May we not take this gift for granted today and find ourselves being good and faithful servants of the breath of life God has given us.


overload

Once upon a time it was just the newspaper. Then with the advent of radio everything changed. A few decades after that technology gave rise to the television. As the digital age grew we found ourselves with email, social media and the birth of the 24/7 inundation of headlines and bulletins from every corner of the globe in the ongoing pursuit of information and the need to stay currently aware. And all of a sudden we find ourselves in the thick of an ongoing exhaustive media stream and we have become overwhelmed. At any moment of any given day we can open our smart phones, computers, tablets, etc. and find some sort of an article, bulletin, or blog post that is sure to arouse feelings of anger, frustration, fear, paranoia, hatred, anxiety, etc. and leave us feeling overloaded. There is so much wrong in the world and we just want/need to set it right…

As Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples in the latter part of the book of John He gave them some last words of comfort. He knew that they were about to be overwhelmed by all that would take place in the next few days and so he issued a promise to them of the presence of the Holy Spirit and before He prayed over them He said this, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33. The Greek root behind the word for trouble in this passage is best defined as ‘pressing’ or ‘pressure’. Jesus was saying to His disciples and ultimately to us that this world will weigh in on you, pressing you, overloading you, overwhelming you…but take heart. I am leaving you with this promise of the presence of my Spirit so that you may have peace, harmony, in the midst of the overload. The last phrase in this passage refers to Jesus being Lord (overcome) over the kosmos. And although we translate that as world, it literally refers to everything there is.

So if you are like me during this turbulent time of knowing everything that happens in every corner of the planet thirty seconds after it happens you are probably feeling a little overwhelmed, overloaded. How can I make a difference in this world that is so chaotic? Do something with me for a moment. Take a deep breath…go ahead, I’ll wait. You feel that? It’s a gift from God. God has given you this moment. Maybe you can take it to hug a family member. Maybe you can use it to engage in conversation with a stranger. Maybe you might use it in intentional service to someone who is less fortunate than you. But however you use it may you take comfort in the fact that Jesus has given you His peace through the power of the Holy Spirit and we don’t have to give into the pressure that comes from the exhaustive amount of media that comes our way. God has called you to be His disciple right where you are. Now go, breathe deep in The Spirit and see how God will use you to bring the Kingdom of God in your own backyard.


it’s for you

I am a lover of nature. I guess in some respects I always have been. I grew up at the foot of Lookout Mountain and have always loved chasing after bugs, reptiles, craw-fish and anything else that would cross my path. Being outdoors was just a natural a part of my formative years. Of course now I reside in Odessa, TX. When we lived in Michigan our cabin fever season existed during the winter months. You got out, but only if you had to. In West Texas I have discovered that cabin fever runs through the months of June – August. Never have I been more thankful for air-conditioning in my life. So what does the nature lover do in Odessa, TX? My wife recently helped out with this when she came home from a shopping trip with a bird feeder. I was ecstatic. But after two days, the birds were no closer to feasting on the bounty I had set before them. I then read that most song birds do not rely on a sense of smell to find a feeder, but by sight. So I began to leave seed all around the feeder to invite them to the spread laid out before them and this morning we almost had our first guest perch.

It reminds me of this parable that we recently took another look at in one of our Wednesday night gatherings. In the parable of The Great Banquet we hear of a master who prepared a feast and those invited decided to make excuses instead of attending. His servant then went out and invited the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Even after this, the banquet wasn’t full and we read this, “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” – Luke 14:23 The servant was instructed to go to all those considered outsiders and to “compel” them to come to the banquet. There is almost this presupposition that these outsiders will hear of this feast, receive the invitation from the servant, but then think it is not for them. So the Greek here actually refers to the servant having to almost drag them to the feast so that they will know it’s for them. 

I’ve felt a little like this with the bird feeder. Here I have this abundance of food laid out for the birds but they don’t know it’s for them. I have to lead them to it…show them that this feast is for them. It’s the same way for us in the church with the gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ. Those who are on the outside and haven’t experienced God’s forgiveness often don’t even know what is being made available. Sometimes they don’t even realize that they have this need. And yet, God has laid out this extravagant feast that we refer to as The Kingdom of God or New Life in Christ and he has charged us with sharing the invitation. But much like my own predicament with the feeder, it is not good enough for it just to be. We are called to “compel” those outside, to lead them to the table and reassuringly tell them, “it’s for you”. May we find ourselves caught up in the joy of the servant offering up this compelling invitation to those outside today and continually remind them, “it’s for you”.


versus

It’s something we learn from an early age, the myth of us versus them. As kids it is often for sports, competition or play. As we grow older sometimes the distinctions that we make become more serious with age. It’s no longer about the games we play or the sports teams we cheer on (although sometimes these rivalries are pretty serious), but we begin to make distinctions based on race, regional affiliations, philosophies, gender, etc. the list could go on forever. And although sometimes these differences are naturally observed, the damage we allow them to do at times is quite unnatural. When we operate out of the paradigm of us verses them we begin to rob ourselves of what God may be trying to do through us.

You see, these distinctions do not belong to God. In the beginning we read this about God’s creation of humanity. “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27 Here we read that all of mankind is made in the image of God. All of mankind bears God’s image, God’s touch. So when we create these divisions, these categories, we limit our ability to see the “other” as someone who is also made in the image of God. And ultimately the way in which we treat them as a bearer of the image of God is a reflection of our love for God. If that love is limited by sweeping divisions and categories, we are not truly reflecting the love of God for His creation.

In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis comments on our interaction with fellow image bearers in the following way, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” One might say that our sweeping categorizations of people much like ‘nations, cultures, arts, civilizations’ are mortal as well and limit our ability to see each other as immortal beings. What would happen if we were able to drop the us versus them mentality? What would happen in our families, relationships, encounters, etc. if we were able to simply see each other as made in the image of God? May you see those around you in a new light today and truly embrace your neighbor as a bearer of the image of God.


present

Sometimes I hate my smart phone. I guess it really is more of a love/hate relationship, but I hate what I allow it inadvertently to do to my other relationships. And don’t act like you haven’t been there either. It can pull you away from meaningful conversation. It occupies time that would otherwise be well invested in the lives of those closest to you. It becomes a distraction from what could or should be termed as real life. It keeps you from being present. In fact at times I feel like I just have to take a sabbatical from it in order to be a better version of myself. Presence is something we as humans really seem to struggle with.

Fortunately for us this is not an issue for God. Although, the way we talk you might think it were. Sometimes we behave in ways as to insinuate that God isn’t present in a place. Or other times we allude to the fact that God is present somewhere when He hasn’t been before. But the apostle Paul has this to say about the presence of God, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:3-6 Did you catch that last part? ‘One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’. Whether or not we recognize it, God is always present.

And I think the problem with us and sensing God’s presence is not a God problem. It’s a you and me problem. Much like our inability to be present with our friends and family with distractions like smart phones, we often allow other things to get in the way of us perceiving the presence of God. Paul says to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through peace. So when we allow ourselves to be distracted by other influences and expectations and divisions, we won’t sense the presence of God. Even when we expect God to only be present in ways we have experienced His presence in the past, we are limiting our experience of who God is. The very giving of God’s name in Exodus 3 should keep us from doing this when God tells us, “I am what I am” or even better, “I will be what I will be”. (Exodus 3:14)

There is a worship song that was written a few years ago that I think helps us to see our responsibility in the presence and action of God that I think we would all be wise to give ear to today. The bridge simply says this, “Let us become more aware of Your Presence, Let us experience the glory of Your goodness” (Holy Spirit by Bryan and Katie Torwalt) Today, may we realize that God’s presence is all around us and that we are called to experience that presence with Him and to share it with those around us.


love

I’m not sure how most of your homes work, but ours has always had a division of labor. Certain tasks fall to my wife and certain tasks fall to me. With the exception of rocking infants, one of my tasks has always been the bedtime ritual. I imagine a large part of the motivation of this division is due to my wife’s exhaustion after handling the kids most of the day, but it is a task I have gladly accepted. This usually includes making sure teeth are brushed, pajamas are on, stories are read, prayers are said and kisses and hugs are distributed equally. Last night as I was putting the bigs (this is now the affectionate term given to the two older kids) to bed I leaned over to hug my daughter and she blurted out, “God loves you, God loves me, God loves the whole world and God loves grandmother” (I’m still not sure why my maternal grandmother gets her own line, but if you knew her you might understand that a bit more). But I was touched by her innocence and the profoundness of that assurance that she had.

I think sometimes we think differently about God’s love. Maybe we feel it is something that we have to earn. Maybe we feel sometimes we think it is something that we aren’t deserving of. Maybe sometimes we think it is meant for someone else and not for us. Maybe sometimes we get that turned around and think of others as unlovable by God. But I come back to this again, “God loves you, God loves me, God loves the whole world.” We find this declaration in one of the most often quoted passages of scripture in the whole of the Bible. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16. It doesn’t say that God loved a certain portion of the world. Or that God loved the people that look like me, act like me, dress like me, etc. The text says that God loved(s) the world…This is why he came. This is why he gave his life. Because he loves us all.

I have read many books about theology and Biblical thought in my scholastic career and in my time as a pastor. But I really think that sometimes we forget how simple this message is for you and for me. Sometimes I like to sing the following to myself as a little reminder:   Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

“God loves you, God loves me, God loves the whole world”. If you get nothing else from this today, I pray that you are able to rest in the love of God. A love that was not passive, but gave everything to redeem you. A love that is never-ending, unstoppable, always and forever, divine in nature, looking beyond my faults and calling me his own kind of love. This is the kind of love God has for you and for me.

 

 

 


%d bloggers like this: