The Absurd Gospel

This past weekend, I took a drive up to Crockett, TX to help a good friend tow a boat that was dead in the water.  I thought nothing of it.  It was no big deal to me to do this.  In fact, I enjoy being on the water so much that it didn’t even feel like work.  I didn’t really feel like I was doing him any favors…more that I was just spending a day on the water.  My wife, and my parents were there too.  After we wrapped everything up with his boat, we decided to head out for dinner.  We stopped at a Seafood restaurant where the food was superb.  When it came time for the check, before I could ask the waiter to make sure and split my wife and I on to our own check, my good friend had already taken care of the tab.  The first thing I said to him was “…that’s not necessary…”.  He simply replied that he appreciated the help we gave him that day so much and wanted to do something in return for that.  I could only think that this was absolutely absurd.  What help had we provided?  We drove a boat with another one tied behind it?  In my mind, it didn’t make sense that he would offer such a financial sacrifice for all of us when I didn’t feel we deserved it.  Nevertheless, I thanked him, we parted ways, and that was that.

This morning on my drive in to work, I was listening to Ascend the Hill’s album, Take the World, But Give Me Jesus.  This is an album of their rendition of various old hymns.  When the song How Great Thou Art came on, my heart sank and I couldn’t help but repeat the song the rest of the way to work, particularly this verse:

“And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”

My mind began to race and I began to think how absurd this was.  The words “I scarce can take it in” describe my thoughts exactly.  I felt like I couldn’t accept this, I couldn’t make sense of this, it was an action from God that was by definition, ABSURD!  I guess before moving on I should define this word to make my point:

absurd:  (according to Webster’s dictionary) ridiculously unreasonable, unsound 

To think that God, the absolute definition of perfection, would take His son, the absolute embodiment of that perfection, and allow him to be tortured and murdered, so that we, a world full of rapists, whores, drug dealers, liars, adulterers, murderers, child molesters, debaucherous,  flat out wicked and sinful people, could have a shot at paradise.  Tell me what part of this seams at all reasonable or sound?  And yet….it happened….it was very real….and it is just that simple.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  – Romans 5:8 NASB

God’s love is at the root of all of this.  God has such a love for us, that he would go to absurd measures to ensure that we can be with HIm again one day.  Which of us wouldn’t go to absurd measures to help those that we love?  To help those closest to us, even if they may not deserve it?

God, who is perfection, looked at us, who are the definition of imperfection and said that we are worth it.  We are worth the torture and death His son would endure.  We are worth it.

Yes, the gospel is absurd….and that is the most beautiful truth in the world.  If God did what was reasonable….we wouldn’t stand a chance.  But God works outside of our comprehension of reason….thank God for His absurdity!

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“The dearest place on earth…”

“The church is full of hypocrites…”, ” all I hear is gossip gossip gossip…”, “this church has too many problems….”.

These are probably three of the most common sayings I hear about the Christian church.  Not one in particular, but in general.  No matter what, someone is leaving one church or another because of the imperfections among it’s members.  It’s almost as if the criteria placed on the search for a good church to attend is pretty well set at….well….perfection.  Anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

I love the following by Charles Spurgeon.  For those that don’t know, Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, and was very influential among churches of varying denominations.  He was nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers”.  Here is his take on “the Church” and why he refers to it as the “…dearest place on earth…”:

“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!

As I have already said, the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers. The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.”

He makes a statement here that I believe is lost among most believers, that giving yourself to the Lord, also means giving yourself to the Lord’s people.  He doesn’t say church building, or church facility, but to God’s people.  We associate, so much, that the church is a place, or a building.  I would love, LOVE, to be able to take a trip to Israel, and visit the Holy Land, and see where Christ walked, and be where he was….but I guarantee you I would no more find the presence of God there, than I would sitting in Conroe, TX with my fellow believers worshiping together.  The church is not a place, the church is not a city, the church is not a location….the church is people…..very imperfect, sinful, hypocritical, hurting, people.  And because of this, the beautiful truth is that the church will always be imperfect, and I say “beautiful truth” very emphatically. The fact that I am surrounded by so many sinners, hypocrites, liars, etc., means I can go to church and feel right at home, because I know good and well that I am in as much need of God’s loving, and forgiving grace, as the drug dealer on the street, or the whore enslaved to work in the brothel.  So it’s said that the church is full of hypocrites….absolutely it is….because that is where they belong.  They belong in a place that is as Spurgeon states, “…a sanctuary for the sinners saved by grace…”.

There is no heirarchy…no one better than the other…it’s  a room full of those saved by the same grace…united together to be one family of sinners, worshiping a God who dismisses their sin.

“…for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” 

– Ephesians 2:18-19 (NASB)

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Impeccable Timing

Timing seems to be something that can be lost among us.  I mean, punctuality can differ by varying degrees from one person to the next.  Some of us are early risers; others can’t seem to find our pillow before midnight.  Some of us like to show up early and others not so much, and call it making an entrance to make up for being late.  Regardless of where you fall, the fact remains that all of us are different, however, it seems like timing tends to the key factor. Sometimes we are in the right place at the right time, or quite the opposite, resulting in what can only be summed up as just one bad day.  The issue with this is it seems to be inevitably out of our control.  We are going to be where we are, and whether or not it is the right place right time, or just the opposite, it never seems to be in our control.

I discovered something beautiful however.  There is one scenario where the timing is always perfect. One being that never seems to be late or early, but always right on time, with exactly what is needed at that time. Those of you reading this that are Christians, can safely make the assumption that I am speaking of God here.  Those of you who aren’t there, have to at least admit that at times in your life, you’ve noticed a higher power at work with the way circumstances tend to arrange themselves around your life.  Maybe for you, you just need to open your heart a bit to what that higher power is, but that’s something for another blog.  For now, we are going to stick with God’s timing.

Prayer is a concept among Christians that I fear has lost some of its genuineness.  We have become so completely focused on creating prayers that are so poetic, and something that seems like it should be read with a British accent, just to get the point across.  Don’t get me wrong, God most definitely deserves our reverence, and so I am all for showing that in our prayers, but something I feel is all too often forgotten is the fact that God calls us His children, and expects us to call him Father.  “See what kind of Love the Father has given to us, that we should be called Children of God; and so we are….1 John 3:1a”.  There is an intimacy to be shared between a father and their child, and a sign of that intimacy is the way that they speak to each other, and the way that the child always knows to ask daddy when they want something.  Just watch a child interact with their father in a store, even as obnoxious as it can get, the child will always ask daddy when he wants something.  It’s instinctual.  A child runs to the father when they need or want something.  If we are God’s children, why would we not follow that same model?  Sure, God deserves our reverent fear, but He also desires our love and trust.  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, and makes the obvious point that God LOVES us so much, that each time 1 soul comes to Christ, the heavens rejoice!  But Jesus also gives one command to us, that we LOVE God in return.  If we LOVE God, we should pray that way.  If we view God as our Father, we should pray accordingly.  The model is there in the Lord ’s Prayer, but understand, that is a model, and we are allowed to fill in the blanks with our wants and desires.  God wants us to ask.  Ask and you shall receive is not just a metaphor, it is quite literal.

Now, back to God’s timing.  It is important to understand that “ask and you shall receive” is ALWAYS true, but there is something there that needs to be truly understood.  God will ALWAYS come through to those who ask Him to, in the right time.  God will always answer you when you need that answer.  Here’s the thing to remember, the answer may not necessarily be exactly what you want, but just like daddy and his child, he doesn’t give the child everything he wants either, but also doesn’t punish the child for asking.  God expects us to ask boldly, and to also accept His answer.  I can’t promise that God will always grant you exactly what you are asking for, but I can promise you that God WILL ALWAYS answer.  God will always give what is needed, at the time it is needed.  His timing is perfect.  His answers are perfect.

My motive behind this writing is not to lecture or teach something that I know that everyone else doesn’t, but rather it is something I only recently learned.  I had to bring myself to my knees, and start truly asking God for the things that I desired, and believe me, God answered!

I leave you with this, in your prayer, Honor God, Thank God, ask for forgiveness from God (because trust me, we ALL need it), but finally ASK FROM GOD!  He WILL answer, in the way that HE knows is best.

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Our plate is full?

I like to think that for the most part…I’m a pretty calm person.  I don’t tend to get real angry.  I think the last time I really let my temper get away from me was when I was a freshmen in high school…since then…I’ve learned to remain pretty collected.  I have to admit, however, today I’m pretty upset.  I read something this morning that got my blood boiling.  I’m not too worried about this though…because I know it’s a righteous anger. 

This morning I was reading an article on chron.com about children in Haiti and the vast amounts of them that are forced into literal slave labor (and for some of them as sex slaves) because of the widespread poverty.  According to the article, even some of the families that own these slaves have sent their own children to be slaves in another household somewhere else.  This is terribly disturbing but didn’t come as much of a surprise to me.  I’ve been pretty aware of the modern-day slavery problem haunting our world for a while.  What angered me was what I saw after reading the article.  Chron.com offers the ability to leave comments on each article, and some of the comments I read were so self-centered, foolish, and just plain ignorant, that my stomach literally began to turn.  You can read the article here and see for yourself:

Report says 225,000 Haiti Children work as slaves

One of the comments read:

“With what we have going on in our own country, sorry…..our plate is full. The time is now for countries to start solving their own problems.”

Our plate is full?!?!?!  I’ve never been so angered by any one statement before.  Just who do we think we are?  Sure, our plate is full, but I can come home from work and sit and watch T.V. for a few hours.  God forbid I sacrifice my PS3 or Xbox time to help someone in need.  I can’t spend my money helping Haitian children…not when the 50 inch plasma T.V.’s are going on sale.  There isn’t a soul in the world that can say they don’t have time.  Whether you’re married with kids, or single…you have all the time that everyone else has.  I would challenge anyone to count up the hours you spend watching T.V.   The results might be shocking.  Sure…be a good husband / wife, or a good father / mother, but I’m sure there are a couple of hours during the day we could spend helping someone, rather then facebooking, or watching our favorite shows.  Have we really become this selfish?  Have we really chosen to turn that much of a blind eye to the rest of mankind?  Is our favorite sports team really that much more important then the good and well-being of people?  Created by the same God we were created by?  The lyric from Emery’s song Closed Eyes, Open Hands must be true “…pride comes before our fellow-man…”. 

And how much more ashamed of ourselves should we be if we are Christians?  Those claiming to be models of Jesus Christ.  He devoted His entire life on earth to serving man kind.  From healing the sick, to raising the dead, Jesus’ entire life was spent giving us an example of how our lives should be.  Sure, we can say we love our fellow man…but what are we doing to show it?  1 John chapter 3 says to love by our actions…not our tongues.  Are we doing that when we’d rather play video games rather than spend time on the streets, feeding a homeless man?  Or refuse to sell items that are mere pleasures, above and beyond the things we need, to raise money to send to a child forced into slavery?  Have we truly betrayed the gospel?  Have we truly abandoned the Jesus modeled life we chose to live when we accepted Christ?  I pray for our sake that the answer is no.  Or that if the answer is yes, that we can run back to Jesus and to loving His people the way he commanded us to. 

I had to pray this prayer after reading the article.  If it’s applicable to you, maybe you should pray it too.

God forgive me for my selfishness. I LOVE You, and therefore want to LOVE Your people by whatever means possible.

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No Pressure

Have you ever given a gift to someone, and gave it out of some kind of unseen obligation.  Have you ever felt like you were compelled to give it, whether it was a collection being taken up to pitch in for a gift, or it was someone’s birthday party, and you didn’t want to show up empty handed?  Honestly, if no one would have invited you to that party, or told you they were all chipping in for a gift for that person, would you have really taken the time to give something?  I’m not talking about a gift for a son or for a parent’s birthday.  I mean a friend, or an acquaintance you may not see very often.  If there weren’t some sort of external pressure, would you have been willing to give?  To sacrifice your time or money for them?

I’m blown away every time I think that a God that created universes and galaxies, took the time to think about me, and more so, let His own son bleed and die in my place.  But it’s not so much the actual sacrifice that amazes me, but the fact that there was no pressure.  It was God’s WILLINGNESS to do it, without being asked.  He just loves us that much….He just…..did it.

Tonight as I continued my closer look into the life of Jesus, I had to keep flipping the pages backwards and reading this one portion over and over again.  Take the time to read this for yourself:

“And it came about that while He (Jesus) was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man full of leprosy;  and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean'”…      -Luke 5:12 NASB

There is more that I want you to read, but I have to interject here for a moment.   Look at the statement made by this man.  Here is a man, saturated in leprosy, an outcast from society.  Someone who had probably been rejected from everyone around because of his misfortune.  He sees Jesus, and the only thing he says to Him is “…Lord, if You are wiling, You can make me clean”. A statement.  A simple fact about Jesus.  He never asks to be healed, he never begs or pleads, he simply acknowledges who Jesus was.  He simply states something that Jesus already knew.  He said if You are willing, this is what you are capable of…if You are willing.  Why wouldn’t he beg?  Why wouldn’t he plead with Christ to take away this unfair misfortune that had befallen him….why settle for acknowledgment of Jesus’ power.  Lets go back to the Bible:

“And He (Jesus) stretched out His hand, and touched him (the leper) saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’  And immediately the leprosy left him.”     – Luke 5:13 NASB

Wait a minute!  You mean the leper didn’t even have to ask to be healed?  WHAT?!?!?  You mean….Jesus was willing to heal, simply by faith alone?  Wow.  You see, this is what amazes me about the God I live for.  He created galaxies, He created everything I see every day, and the oxygen I breathe to stay alive.  Here’s what we did…..

  • Took His only son and beat Him
  • Spat in His face
  • whipped Him
  • Put thorns into his flesh
  • Pounded spikes into his hands
  • Drove a spear into His side
  • KILLED Him

(The list could probably go on for days)

Here is God’s response:

Because I LOVE you so MUCH!!!!  I’m going to let my son die.  I’m going to let you do all of these horrible things to him.  All you have to do when all is said and done, is believe in Him.  Believe that He is my son, and in the sacrifice He is making for YOU, and you can come and live with me in paradise.     – John 3:16 PARAPHRASED

God was always willing….He always is…and He always will be.  God never has to be asked to open His door….it stays that way.  All He wants is for us to simply believe that  amazing truth.  He wants our unwavering faith.

Such an amazing thing to hear God say to a filthy, worthless, incapable human being like myself,

“I am willing; be cleansed.”

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Let down your nets….here? Really?

It seems that as I look backwards and have my moments of deep self-examination…where I came from, to where I am now….I am kind of saddened by something.  It seems that over time, I have passed up on a lot of BIG opportunities.  I’ve let go of a LOT of chances that probably could have led to living a bigger story then I am living now.  This reference to living a life of story is not my own.  After reading Don Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I realize the importance of applying the principles of story to my own life.  To quote Don Miller, “…without story, you just have experiences that are random and meaningless”.    You see, according to Don Miller, a story must obey certain principles to be called a story.  You must have a protagonist, or main character, and that character must have an objective, and have obstacles or conflicts to overcome in order to attain that objective.  He goes on to say that in applying these same principles to our lives, it can give our lives meaning and purpose beyond what we knew before, but we must expect the obstacles and conflicts along the way.

God has a big story to tell, and the wonderful thing about this, is that if we, God’s children, and by that I mean those that have chosen a life dedicated to HIM, are players in that story, living many sub-stories that all point back to the same objective.  God has a story for you to live, to get to an objective…His kingdom…and there are conflicts down some roads that are presented before us, and those are scary, but this is story!  God wants us to be willing to trust HIM no matter what, and be willing to face and fight through any obstacles and conflicts along this story-line.

Tonight I was spending some more time reading about the life of Jesus again.  I’ve been reading in Luke and tonight I dove into Luke chapter 5.  In this chapter, Jesus begins calling His disciples, and Simon, or Peter, was of the first He spoke to.  It’s funny, going back and reading this, I see now that the first thing Jesus said to Peter had EVERYTHING to do with Peter’s story.  Jesus asked Peter to put the boat out into the deep, and let down the nets.  There is a protagonist, Peter, an objective, letting down the nets, and then comes the conflict.  Peter looks back and Jesus and says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing….”  -Luke 5:5a.  You see, Peter, the protagonist, saw the objective, but right away recognized the conflict, and like many of us, began to back away from it.  But you know, there’s got to be something powerful about looking the Son of God in the face, because the very next words out of Peter’s mouth were, “…but at YOUR bidding I will let down the nets” -Luke 5:5b.  Peter saw the conflict, but knew that in order to get to an objective, he would have to somehow overcome that conflict, and the only way to do it, would be to just trust in the one presenting him with the objective…Jesus.

Going back to the way I began this mindless ranting…in looking back at my life, I realized that the reason I passed on what could have been BIG stories, had nothing to do with external circumstances.  It’s not that no one believed in me, or that circumstances wouldn’t permit, it was simply this…I didn’t believe in myself, and justifiably so.  You see, I’m not really supposed to believe in myself, but that is not a reason to give up on big stories.  You see, even though I know that I am an incapable mess, God is perfect, and God is capable of ANYTHING, and although I’m not supposed to rely fully on myself, I AM supposed to believe in a God that is matchless.  I am supposed to trust when Jesus says, “…let down your nets”.  You see, I didn’t finish the story yet.  When Peter listened and let down the nets….well….i’ll just let the Bible speak for itself

“And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break.” -Luke 5:6

Big story opportunities are put in our paths every day….don’t pass them up.  Believe in the God that saved you, that created you with such care and detail.  Trust Him when he says, “…let down your nets”, and you will be surprised how quickly your nets will break.  God can use you for great things, if only you’ll follow your disbelief in yourself, with an unwavering belief in an almighty, awesome God.

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How fine is the line?

We’ve all at one point or another used, or heard the phrase, “It’s a fine line…”.  This phrase is primarily used to describe something that is so subtle, that it can be missed by simply blinking past it.  It’s use is most effective when comparing two scenarios and emphasizing the fact that it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two.  This morning, I continued my morning routine of starting my day with God’s word, and for the past couple of days, I have been reading 1 John.  I came across a verse that, for lack of a better word, startled me today. 

“By this, the Children of God, and the children of the devil are obvious.  Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God…..”   1 John 3:10

When I read this verse, my mind and heart immediately went into self-examination mode, trying to find out if I really was or was not “obvious” in my walk with God.  The phrase, “it’s a fine line…” kept repeating in my head and I kept asking myself, “How fine is my line?”. 

As Christians we are called to be in this world but not of it.  We are supposed to stand out.  1 John says it perfectly, the Children of God should be OBVIOUS.  I know, when I examine my years as a Christian, there are points in that timeline that appear very faded, where I can’t tell if I really am a Christian or not.  Are we blending in or standing out?  Are we obvious?

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