If Only Jesus Would Have Been From the South…

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Why Many Love the Gospel of John

One of the reasons many people love the Gospel of John is due to the many encounters Jesus has with individuals. Whether it be the woman at the well in John 4 or with Nathaniel and Jesus in John 1 . Or even the infamous one on one encounter with Peter near the conclusion of the gospel. This one on one dynamic produces within us a certain ease and comfort as we read these stories because we can imagine ourselves in the position of the one to whom Jesus is ministering to.

Well if there is one thing I have realized in seeking to translate the New Testament and words of Jesus from the original Greek to our modern English, it’s that certain things get lost in translation. Literally.

You vs. Y’all

While there are many idioms, language quirks, and even metaphors that make up this list there is one functional pronoun issue that tops them all. That would be You vs. y’all.

In Koine Greek language, the language of the New Testament, there is both a singular and a plural “you.” A singular “to you” is σοι, pronounced like “soy.” While a plural “to you” is ὑμῖν, which is pronounced “who-min.” I am sure if you look closely, even if you can’t read Greek, you will notice the difference. Well for us as English-speaking people, we lack that difference. Except in the south where we will often hear “y’all” which is short for “you all.”

So why is this an issue? Well often times in these “one on one” stories of Jesus and another he speaks directly to them as individuals (σοι). However, in some of these stories he will then broaden out and a second time say “you” but this time, unbeknownst to us, include others as in “you all” (ὑμῖν).

Jesus, Nicodemus, and y’all

One such example can be found in John 3. During a nighttime conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus and Jesus they begin to dialog about the origin of Jesus and His message. In order for Nicodemus to rightly understand this profound truth Jesus declares that he must be “born from above” or as some call it “born again.” This means to come into a saving, redeeming, and confessional relationship with Jesus and this new message of the Kingdom. However, the dialog is not meant for Nicodemus alone, but also others in Israel and the readers of this gospel. Both then and today. Keeping in mind what we read above, lets look more closely at v. 7.

NA28 John 3:7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι· δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.

NRS John 3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

Do you see the difference? In our Greek translation it basically says, “Do not marvel or be astonished that I said to you (singular), ‘You all, Y’all, everyone, must be born from above.”

Well how about that. We, the reader, the listener on the outside have just been invited into the story in a deeper way. This second “you” is in the plural form relating to everyone around Nicodemus. Not just him.

Dean Deppe, a scholar out of Amsterdam, speaks on the importance of this singular/plural “you” and its importance. He says,

“This dialogue represents a conversation between unbelieving Jewish leaders in the first century and the Christian church, led by Jesus. Without realizing it, Nicodemus speaks prophetically in the plural: “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (3:2), Then in 3:11-12, the dialogue displays the contrasting faith of Christians, on the one hand, and unbelieving Jews, on the other hand, when Jesus gives to Nicodemus personally (sing. you) a message for everyone (plural you)….This change in Greek pronouns demonstrates that all of us must enter into a conversation with Jesus. ” (Dean Deppe, PhD., Devotions on the Greek New Testament, 45)

Why is This Important?

Understanding this helps us realize as readers of this story and others like it that we were not just meant to observe the story playing out in Scripture but rather join in on it. We were never meant to be mere observers but rather participators placing ourselves within the texts we read and study.

This understanding of the singular and plural “you” only furthers that very truth. Since Jesus was not from the south where he would have readily said “y’all”, perhaps the next time you come across one of those “you’s” in Scripture, do a simple word search on Bible Gateway. It will tell you if it’s singular or plural. The result and context may just open your eyes and draw you in even more to the beauty of Scripture and the beautiful narrative which unfolds.

Want to try one? Read 1 Corinthians 6:19 and try to figure out who it is that serves as the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” The context is more important than you may think.

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#ContextMatters

 

 

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The Challenge of Obedience and Trust in the Christian Journey

This is a sculpture located on a prayer path at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. It shows Jesus in the garden crying out to God. One of the phrases recorded that Jesus prayed was, "Not they will; but yours."
This is a sculpture located on a prayer path at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. It shows Jesus in the garden crying out to God. One of the phrases recorded that Jesus prayed was, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matt. 26:42 NRS)

Wisdom from an unlikely source

While it may be ignored by most Protestants, Wisdom of Solomon may be one of the most intriguing and raw books of Scripture. It is a book found in the Apocrypha which is included in the Orthodox and Catholic bible but not in the Protestant. The reasons for this merits another post of its own. (For now, click here)

Written between Malachi and Matthew, it is the best introduction to the era of Jesus and the early church. It was also a huge influence on Paul of the New Testament as well as other biblical writers (compare Romans 1:29-32 with Wisdom 13:8-9; 14:25-26).

With that being said, from the very first line of this book we read something powerful, bold, and to the point. The author says in 1:1, “Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart…”

This first verse is filled with tremendous imperatives which are commands to be obeyed and followed through on. He says to “love righteousness (justice), think of the Lord in goodness (lit. set your mind upon the Lord), and seek him with sincerity of heart. Or as the NEB translation puts it, “seek him in simplicity of your heart.” While these bold statements are enough to think about for some time, it is what follows these commands that we should never forget.

Wisdom 1:2 states, because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests [reveals] himself to those who do not distrust him.”

What follows verse 1 is the answer to many “So what?” questions we may have from hearing such commands. The word connecting these two verses is the Greek conjunction “ho-ti.” The manner in which it is used here refers to what was previously said. This word is often used to introduce a cause or reason based on an evident fact that precedes it. (See John 20:29) In the present example it is giving the reason for the commands that precede it. It answers the “so what?” question that the commands bring to the surface.

I am supposed to love justice? Why? So what?
I am supposed to seek God? Ok, why?
Set my mind on Him? For what reason? Why?

Often these thoughts and questions come from a stubborn place within us that want all the answers and facts before we seek to be obedient.

Why do we seek to trust and obey?

So why do we as Christians seek to be obedient and trusting of Scripture? Why do we seek to obey Jesus in his commands and desires of us? Or the rest of the bible? To love others. To seek the Kingdom. To refrain from greed. To turn the other cheek. To not look lustfully after a woman. To share our goods with others. To not use violence. To not pursue materialism. To not…(you get it). Why ought we be obedient to the commands of Scripture? (When contextually appropriate of course)

Because in doing so we find God in the midst of our obedience and trust. When we obey and trust Him we can count on what the author says above, that he is found by those who trust and seek him (See Jeremiah 29). Somehow on the other end of our obedience and trust, there the Father waits to deepen our wisdom, Christlikeness, and growth. Because we took steps of faith and trust.

That even in our moments of confusion, angst, and doubt; when we cry out, as Jesus did, “nevertheless, your will not mine” there He is. When we exclaim, “I don’t understand! But I still trust you!” There He is with grace to accompany our raw obedience and trust. He doesn’t give us what we want or all the answers we think we may need in order to be obedient to the gospel. He gives to us just enough to spur us on to simple love and trust. Even if that “enough” is complete silence. It is healthy and encouraged to continue to wrestle and seek to understand God’s ways and the Scriptures. But never at the price of obedience and trust. Like a fine tuned instrument, there must always be a healthy tension.

In our life of following Christ, believing in this good news, trusting and obeying are two primary ingredients. We seek to obey His teaching. We put our entire lives into this truth of Christ seeking to practically walk that out. All of which requires a seeking and trusting heart.

What is God seeking from us?

Let us remember that what God is not seeking from us a mastery of all questions and issues of the Christian life. What he is seeking from us is a simplistic trust and obedience that reveals itself as we lean upon Him, trust in Him, and obey Him. Not simplistic people void of depth and a passion for understanding. Rather people longing to obey and trust Him on their journey. No matter the cost. This is the Christian life. “Deny yourself; take up your cross and follow me…” Mark 8:34

For in doing so, we find him. He makes Himself known to us in mysterious ways. Right where we already are. Because we trust and obey.

Yes by all means you should live a “perfect” life.

Matthew 5:48 [widescreen]

pərˈfekSH(ə)n/

n. – the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

Ever met someone who was a spiritual perfectionist? Or someone who lived their spiritual life in trying to be so perfect they tried to manage, control, or manipulate their life to project they “have it all together?” Yea I’ve never meant one either (cough cough). Yes I have been guilty of this in my life.

This word “perfection” in the above Scripture has often been misunderstood and even twisted down through the years. Its even been dumbed down and included on bumper stickers like “Christians aren’t perfect; only forgiven” (insert child like sneer). Even in this bumpersticker a noble minded Christian is furthering the misunderstanding of this word.

This verse has been used by Christians who tend to be legalistic in nature. I used to They use it to justify their self-righteousness and in doing so tarnish and twist the original meaning and context of this word.

I used to live and think that to make the Father proud, to do this “Christian thing” right, I had to be perfect. I had to analyze my daily list of do’s and don’ts. I had to have all my stuff together. I had to ensure that each thing was lining up for my moral life so that what I was projecting on the inside really was perfect just like Jesus says. Thankfully, I have come to understand what Jesus was saying.

A Harmful Word or An Unfortunate Translation?

Kathleen Norris, a famous New York Times bestselling author said something fascinating in her book “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” She has this to say about the “disease of perfection”:

“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know. It is a marked characteristic of contemporary American culture, a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks and causes them to suffer when, although they’ve done the best they can, their efforts fall short of some imaginary, and usually unattainable, standard. Internally it functions as a form of myopia, a preoccupation with self-image that can stunt emotional growth.” Amazing Grace, 55.

Norris is right on. This is a frightening verse and word for many of us. Thankfully when we look at the Christian landscape it is not so much a scary word that has harmed us but rather a scary translation. What often happens in the transmission between the Greek text into English is that we impose certain meanings on the original language that were not present in the original context. This is one of those times. On this one, we are imposing our American and Western understanding of perfection as opposed to a first century understanding of τέλειος which when transcribed is teleios.

This is usually what our concept of perfection in American society and even the American church looks like. Sadly, we’re missing it.

 

Perfection according to Jesus

Teleios, in the way Jesus used it and in this context refers not to a purity that is free from flaw or garnishment but rather a word that denotes a completeness, maturity, full-grown, and developed. Kind of like the perfect Cabernet wine. Is a perfect wine one that is bottled perfectly, fermented perfectly, and free from any imperfection? Some would say yea. However the majority would say the perfect wine is one that has aged well. Over time. One that matured. One that has grown complete with time. This stands in serious contention with our imposed meaning which usually involves setting forth an impossible goal, living without flaw, and so on.

This certainly does not give one license to live without holiness, morality, and a certain godliness that (along with our actions) marks us as different from others who do not follow Christ. But understood in the proper context, holiness is part of maturity. A mature follower of Jesus will understand that we lose certain liberties in following Jesus. Certain actions or ways of thinking that without the knowledge of Christ we were free to partake in, are left/ should be left behind us. These things should be realized through walking with the Holy Spirit. Not the legalistic pressure of others around you.

To be “perfect” in the way Jesus is calling us to be in this context means to make room for growth and to do so on purpose. It is to make the necessary changes which bring about maturity or ripeness. As Norris says, “To mature is to lose adolescent self-consciousness so as to be able to make a gift of oneself, as a parent, as teacher, friend, or spouse.” (Amazing Grace, 56) In other words, to mature, to be perfect, is to leave behind our childish ways so that we may prosper in any given role or position God has us in.

Jesus embodied this. In fact Jesus gives us an amazing window into what perfection really is. For him it was being mature enough to give yourself to others. Whatever we have or whoever we are, no matter how little it seems, is something that can be given and shared with others around us. That requires a mature perspective that as followers of Jesus we aren’t here for ourselves.

We are here to draw everyone around us to the love and joy of knowing Christ. That is the glorious summation of our lives as followers of Christ. It is one that is glorious, adventurous, and perfect. Whether married, single, with kids, no kids, or any other situation–we are to live this life. A life clinging to this world, status, material goods, or anything else we try and fill that God-sized hole with would be an imperfect and immature life. One that is stunted by the frivolous things of a society that has lost its way in the tragic depths of shallowness.

Understanding and Aiming for the right kind of Perfection

Life is to be lived in the perfection Jesus calls us to live in. A perfection marked by growth. Not a lie of “having it all together.” A perfection marked by honest and authentic faith. Not a shallow veneer of sinlessness and self-righteousness. A perfection marked by the tension of seeking holiness and acknowledging brokenness. Not an embarrassing and harmful projection that one has already arrived.

In Ephesians Paul says, “in whom [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” We are that structure. The church. We are the ones growing, maturing, perfect-ing…

May all of us be driven by this daily desire to grow in Him.

Let it be our prayer that in all of our hearts what drives us is not a worldly image of perfection but rather a Christlike pursuit of growth and maturity.

How about you? How do you understand perfection? Is it hard to break away from societies concept of perfection  and embrace the biblical one? Why or why not?

Did you really think being forgiven was free? C’mon now.

As hard as it may be, forgiveness is the first step on the road to redemption.

Conflict Resolution

I will never forget my 3rd grade school year. I was one of the lucky ones who displayed exceptional character and got picked to be my grade’s “conflict manager.” I, along with three others, had the esteemed honor of wearing bright green vests over our clothes at recess every single day.  Needless to say I was quite the trendsetter when it came to fashion. This was part of a national initiative to end bullying in grade schools. My role was to help two or more individuals in disagreement understand both sides and come to terms and forgive one another.

We were trained in what to say and communicate in hopes of finding resolution at the end. We had ground rules that were explained and things they would have to agree to as we talk. Things like not interrupting, not using bad language, and so on. Believe it or not that was the easiest part. I ended up mediating probably 15 fights that year and help my fellow classmates “hug and make up.” Looking back,  the hardest part of each conflict was always the conclusion.

In all of those instances we would end with a promise to go and show the same forgiveness to others that they both experienced. I would go through my little speech on this and they would roll their eyes and say “yea yea I get it, I have to forgive just like I was forgiven. We get it Noah.” Needless to say, I wasn’t really the cool kid in third grade. Even despite my huge collection of pogs. Click here to see what these were.

The Hardest Part About Being Forgiven

Twenty two years have passed since I was a conflict manager on the mean streets of Suffield Elementary in Ohio. However I find myself in very similar situations as a pastor. I often help people come together, reconcile, and demonstrate grace and forgiveness when it seems impossible. Sure the problems and issues have changed but the hardest part of the entire process has not.

I am convinced that we as followers of Christ (let alone humanity) struggle very much with showing grace and forgiveness even after we have experienced it ourselves. That same thread of hypocrisy runs deep whether its on the playground or in adulthood. We can embrace forgiveness but hesitate to extend it. We can hear I am sorry a lot easier than we can say it.

Jesus was a fan of forgiving others. In fact he thought it was so important he said this:

14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Mat 6:14-15 NLT

I have heard this verse preached on and written about on many occasions. Sadly the powerful potency of what is being said is stuffed with exceptions and excuses. “Well if such and such did this… or… If the sin was so grievous then…” There is a strong temptation to pacify what Jesus meant to be bold. You know what I think should follow it? This:__________________. Nothing. We should take it for what it is and wrestle with it.

There are times when we need to allow the words of Jesus hit us square in the eyes and challenge us at our deepest places. Being a forgiving person is one of those. We, as followers of Jesus, are to be forgiving people because we of all people have experienced the tremendous joy of that very same forgiveness. This is the hardest part about forgiveness; its never cheap.

Forgiveness is Not an Emotion

I was talking to someone a few years ago who genuinely wanted to forgive her husband who had abused her. She wanted to forgive him like this verse says and move on with her life. She talked to me and with tears explained how she felt she was not forgiving him because the emotions were still very raw and difficult for her. She then asked me if she truly forgives even if she feels hatred and anger.

I explained to her that forgiveness is not an emotion. It is an act. It is difficult and takes humility. Saying “I forgive you” does not take away the memory or emotion involved. Forgiving is a process that takes time to develop to where the emotions come into alignment with the reality of our will in showing forgiveness. There is still common sense involved and we may choose to forgive someone but still flee from them for practical reasons such as sanity, safety, or any other reason. There are even  times when we may have to forgive from a distance because of the seriousness of the situation.

Forgive and Forget

Short side note: we would do well as the body of Christ to do away with the phrase “forgive and forget.” That completely takes away the beauty and depth of forgiveness. I understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Keep no record of wrongs.” This is in the context of hanging ones faults and bad deeds over the head of the other. This is different.

Forgiveness, the kind that we experience in Christ (click here for more on this) and are to extend to others, is an act that says “I see this [insert offence or grievance] and I want you to know that I am forgiving you for [insert offence or grievance].” Paul explains this same thing  to the church at Rome regarding Jesus and us as sinners. He says, ” While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV.

Do you noticed what came first? Our sin. Our grievance. Our offenses towards God. What followed? Forgiveness and grace. Paul never says, “Christ died for all of you!” Person in crowd says, “Why? For what?” Paul replies, “I don’t know and he doesn’t either!” No. This would be foolish. Real forgiveness acknowledges the pain involved and stares it straight in the eyes and says, “I forgive you.”

Real forgiveness acknowledges the pain caused rather than forgetting it.Yes its hard. Yes it takes time.

Forgiving is hard work. Never easy. But always freeing. Trust me. When you choose to withhold forgiveness you are the one who suffers more in the end than the one who caused the hurt.

What do you feel the hardest part about forgiving others is? Feel free to take the poll below. This will give us a window into the struggle of forgiving others.

 

Red Cups, Refugees, and the Redeemed

sccdred cups

Facebook. Oy vey!

I can’t believe I am about to say the following: “I miss the Facebook days of duck face selfies, cat vine videos, and numerous other “statuses” that were mindless and somewhat funny. I know they are still there but they are harder to spot these days. And to be clear,  I am fully aware of awesome power that is at our finger tips which is social media. It gives a voice (digital letters) to the voiceless (digital letterless). It serves as a place for people to bicker and argue lovingly dialog and share their personal view points and perspectives on everything from the weather to their pets to their sports teams and even world events. Even on things like plastic red colored cups and the fate of millions of refugees.

While I just complained about Facebook I must also admit that it is a fascinating window into the minds and hearts of many people. As a pastor the one thing I always try to do is simply pay attention. Pay attention to the hurts in people’s lives. The joys they celebrate. The fears, temptations, and trials they  express. With all of these things, my response as a pastor is to then call attention. To help align their situations and dispositions with the will of the Father. To help them bring their frustrations and/or inquiries to the feet of Christ and simply ask, “What now Jesus?” To join them in looking through the Scriptures and desperately plead, “Holy Spirit! Guide us and help us navigate these rough waters!”

I’ve been paying attention these last few weeks to news feeds, twitter feeds, and all things media. I’ve noticed a few things that I am absolutely positive you have noticed as well. For example: There was a lot of frustration and uproar over red “anti-Christmas”  Starbucks cups by virtually no one (save a few). And then there were people mad at those who were mad about the red “anti-Christmas” cups which was really no one. This confusing mind game that played out via social media also revealed something else: What Christians really believe is important.

Multitudes of Christians coming on Facebook were exclaiming what really matters because of the supposed Starbucks outrage. “Matthew 25! House the homeless! Clothe the naked! Feed the hungry! Share the gospel!” These and many like it were exclamations made by Christians who in an uproar over the seemingly, albeit confusing, scenario playing out that Christians were mad about red cups.

No less than a week later social media is in an uproar again. Many of these very same people, celebrities, groups, Christian artists, christian leaders and so on were now exclaiming how we must refuse asylum to refugees amidst the global crisis that is ISIS. Or that we should be selective in our process and only take in Christian refugees.

Am I the only one who sees a paradox here? On one day… we refine our Christian priorities like there is no tomorrow, as a response to invisible people mad about red cups. In the same week when tragedy hits (in multiple places, not just Paris) and the issue of refugee asylum comes to the fore and we completely forget what we just affirmed in regards to what Christians believe to be priority.

What was, “Matthew 25! House the homeless! Clothe the naked! Feed the hungry! Share the gospel!” descended into “Close all borders! We’re scared! Say no to those who are being murdered, raped, tortured, persecuted, oppressed, and so on.” Why? Because it might involve r-i-s-k. There may be danger involved in helping, housing, and receiving the displaced, the refugee, and the religiously diverse. Welcome to Christianity. And all this time some of us thought it was a domesticated comfortable club that makes us feel good. C’mon now. Jesus died for something much more meaningful and beautiful than that.

And so, a few things to ponder…

We can’t forget that we are pilgrims, sojourners, aliens, and strangers in a foreign land.

Allow me to explain. We, as in followers of Jesus, are not United States citizens first. We are citizens of a different Kingdom. Members of the Kingdom of God who happened to be citizens in the country of the United States. A nation in which I love and appreciate and am thankful for. But we are immersed into this physical space and time to usher in a different society. Not through legislation, not through voting, not through hash tags, not through rants, and definitely not through societal accommodation (Christmas not xmas, reindeer not blank red, etc). We usher in this supernatural Kingdom through marginal operation (helping the misfits, unwanted, lower class, and any and all in the margins of our society). In other words, we the church, exist on the front lines doing the unpopular, standing up for the hurting, dying, suffering. Why? Because that is our identity.

So if this society wants to do away with expressions of Christmas, or become ultra politically correct, the body of Christ shouldn’t lose sleep over it. Our identity is not wrapped up in the trajectory of this society, country, or culture. When it comes to what moves us, what drives us, what impacts us–it should never be the things of this world but only the heart of the Father.  Peter says it perfectly regarding our present state as Christians in the world:

1 Peter 1:17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. NIV

1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives. CEB

And so, its important to remember that at our very base and core, we know our identity as members of a different Kingdom. If we get this wrong then the lens we see our world through will be tainted, disfigured, and confused.

Being a Christian means we embrace risk and do not fear death.

One of the biggest reasons being thrown around for closing our borders and rejecting Syrian and Iraqi refugees is because it is a “Trojan Horse” tactic of ISIS or ISIL. Heres the reality:they are probably right. It very likely could be. Because of the supposed risk does that mean that we as Christians advocate that the hungry, dying, suffering, raped, oppressed, stay within their borders? Of course not! Risk is part of the reality we live with. Your life is not your own. Your safety went out the window when you chose to follow Jesus. You are a lamb among wolves. You are a stranger in a foreign land pointing the way to the hope of Christ.

As a citizen of the United States, I get the rationale. I get what “should” happen. I understand the State is not the church and the country has certain responsibilities to protect its own. But remember, we as followers of Jesus are members of a different Kingdom. And so our energy is going to be geared towards the redemptive and the gospel. Things like, “Bring them here so we can serve them, share with them, and help them. Clothe them, visit them, give them value. Protect them. Empower them.” Yes screen them. Yes do everything you can to ensure there is no ulterior agenda. I am not advocating mindless and naive actions. But by all means, as much as possible, let us be people who open our arms wide even if it would cost us our life or be a risk. Is that not what Christ did? Should we refuse to house the homeless, feed all the hungry, or any other act of love and justice because they could rob us, hurt us, or deceive us? Of course not. With wisdom we continue to serve and love but we ought to never refuse because of risk.

Lest we forget, our very Lord and Savior Jesus was a refugee. Yes, God was a refugee. Check out Matthew 2. So perhaps we could say, “rejecting the marginalized, the refugee, the displaced would be rejecting Christ.”

The way forward involves something more than Facebook.

Lastly, the church, Christian culture, humanity, has made it extremely easy to “help” others. With everything from hashtags, to profile pics, to writing checks–we may have handicapped the church’s creativity and imagination of how to bring the Kingdom of God here and now. Could it be that this is our finest hour? That the state of the U.S., the world, necessitates the church to rise up? To remove the shackles? The lethargy? The comfort?

As some have said, this is this generation’s “holocaust.” Look at the articles. Talk to people from the middle of this refugee crisis. Lets open our eyes and hearts and put faces with the term “refugees.” Whether they be Christian or Muslim or any other religion or even ethnicity. Whether they are from Syria, Somalia, Algeria, Turkey, or any other country. They are people. They are families. They are marriages. They are children, elderly, and helpless.

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When we can better empathize with these individuals, getting creative in how we assist them (or anyone for that matter) gets much easier. For instance, I know a family that is welcoming a student from one of these countries on a student visa who is going to go to a local college. They are rescuing her from the war torn region and giving her a roof and future. Why? Because their heart is broken for this girl and her situation in Damascus, Syria. I have a dear friend on the ground working hard to bring the gospel into war torn Syria who is researching on how our church can  creatively help, serve, and turn the tide of hate and violence. The second I get wind of practical ways we can get involved (for us as HighMillers and others outside of the church I lead) I will bring it right here.

In conclusion, should we pray? Yes. Should we donate? Yes. Should we do small things that show solidarity? Yes. Should we stop at that? No. This is not just about the Syrian refugee crisis. Its also about the U.S. Veteran crisis. Its about the mental illness, homeless, and many other domestic issues as well. Our hearts ought to be big enough for loving and serving both those local and abroad. Our creativity and imagination is boundless.

I understand. This issue is/ can be complicated for Christians living in the U.S. There are some amazing articles out there about this topic. Be well read. Think critically. Pray before you think/type. I want to encourage you. No matter the topic, take a look at how you are arriving at your decisions and dispositions.

Are you spending more time in Scripture than watching Fox News? Are you spending more time on your knees rather than reading Politico and other Left leaning blogs? News, articles, and other forms of media aren’t bad per se. But a disproportionate consumption of these without Scripture and prayer means an identity crisis is sure to ensue.

As a follower of Jesus cling to Scripture and the guidance of his Spirit. Isn’t that what the church has always done? We are the redeemed who by the power of Christ redeem others. The rescued becoming the rescuers. Enacting the story of Christ: He reached out to serve us…we reach out to serve and love others…even if they are refugees, Muslims, enemies, or any other label.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mat 5:46-48 NIV

 

The Greatest Wonder of All

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:10-13 ESV

“God has the Power to Forgive”

To this very moment, I have certain songs stuck in my head from this summers V.B.S. I could probably sing and dance more than half of the songs the children learned. For those of you who don’t know V.B.S. stands for Vacation Bible School. It is that one week out of the summer when we give the parents a much needed break and the kids come to learn the truth of Gods word and grow as followers of Jesus. It is a time that we here at HighMill cherish and love.

Each day of VBS there are certain “Bible points” the children learn and memorize. They learn what they mean and why they are relevant and they set the course for the given lessons each day. On one particular day of VBS the Bible point was, “God has the power to forgive.”

Pretty simple huh? Very straightforward and to the point.

I can hear that statement, like I did, and let it go in one ear and out the other–unfazed and unimpressed on the inside.

That’s what happened to me on that day when I first heard it. I had my coffee. I was walking down the hall way. Heard it yelled by all the kids where I was and delightfully agreed  saying, “yes He does.” I then sipped my coffee and returned to my study. In one ear and out the other unfazed and unimpressed.

However this was not the case for one little boy here at VBS a few hours later. I overheard one of the leaders sharing with this boy about that same Bible point.

The conversation went something like this:

Little Boy: What’s the Bible point again for today?

Leader: God has the power to forgive.

Little Boy: WOW! He does?!? That is so exciting! Like He forgives everything we have ever done that was wrong!!?? (insert smiley faces, high fives, and genuine jubilation)

Leader: Yes, if we come to Him and ask him to.

Little Boy: OH MY! I am so excited that He has the power to forgive. That is awesome!!!  I am so thankful!

After eavesdropping, I went back into my study both overjoyed and convicted. Overjoyed because a child here at HighMill was able to comprehend something so beautiful and amazing: that God forgives us. Convicted because what was so exciting and amazing to this child had become mundane and common to me.

One Thing That Must Never Become Common

There is a serious danger lurking when something beautiful and uncommon becomes dull and routine.  Things like the passion or fun in our marriages or the awe and joy when beholding God’s creation. Even something as normal as the joy of hearing your children laughing. Those are three things that should never become common. But they do. It is of course common for material things to become routine and dull. I mean, I don’t get as excited as I used to about my Legend of Zelda play sword. This is understandable. But there are some things that we can never allow to become normal and mundane.

“God has the power to forgive” is certainly one of them. Do you know (if you choose to believe so) that God,  going by the name Yahweh in the Hebrew Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament created and loves you? Do you know that he sees and understands everything you have been through and have done and still with everything you are and have been through–genuinely loves and forgives you? Of course on our end we must repent, come to him, and embrace this gift. But still, the fact that he even allows us to even do that is mind blowing.

To some of you this may not register just yet. That’s OK. Give it time.  I still struggle with this reality. I know me. I know where I have been and who I am as a broken person. And to think that He still loves and forgives me…wow. This has to be the greatest wonder of all. Not that he created Everest or the Pacific. Not that he created the Big Dipper or Milky Way. But that He, as perfect and holy as He is, extends His hand to a broken and sinful humanity awaiting our response to His open forgiveness and embrace.

I encourage you to simply remember that one truth. That you are loved. That there is grace for you. That he extends his hand of forgiveness to bring you into a life that is new–leaving behind the old.

3 Things Worth Contemplating

  • There is nothing you have done or have experienced that cannot be healed or forgiven by the One who Created you.
  • God was, is, and always will be the God who sympathizes. He has never been a marionette puppeteer, genie, or buddy. He is the descending God who gets you, knows you, and is with you even at your deepest point.
  • Lastly, the bridge from knowing “about” God’s forgiveness and grace to experiencing it daily is prayer, Scripture, and the believing community. Listening/talking with Him and reading/meditating on the narrative of His love for humanity, and doing so with others along the same journey.

Those three things, at the expense of simplifying,  if focused upon will make that simple “Bible point” stand out to us every time we hear it.

One More Thought…

In an obscure book of the Bible called Zepheniah, God is speaking through this prophet many things about the people of Israel. He goes to great lengths to explain His anger and frustration regarding their infidelity but then says something pretty exciting about the people He was angry with. He says,  “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zep 3:17)

Though the context may be different, I have to believe that God still dances over his children each time one of them returns back into his loving arms of forgiveness and grace.

An amazing and perfect Father forgiving a broken and repentant people…you, me, and us. That has to be the greatest wonder of all. I pray that hasn’t become common to you.

Your turn

What is the hardest part about accepting God’s forgiveness?

Be honest, does this truth ever become mundane to you?

How do you keep this fresh and real in your own life?

Christ and the Journey Ahead: The Beginning

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This is a picture from Quail Hollow. This is the exact location I have always come to hear from the Father, cry out to the Lord, and rest in His Spirit. This picture best represents what I think life is like: an exciting and arduous journey ahead. One that I believe is best walked with the Lord. Day by day. Minute by minute. Through each joy, tragedy, and storm.

As a pastor I hear questions swirling around the minds of many Christ-followers. Questions like:

“How do we live this life of following Jesus? How do we respond to a culture very different from our own? Who in fact was Jesus and what more is there to know about Him? How can I better love and serve others like He did? How do we engage the Scriptures and understand what is being written? How do we know what is to be literal and what is figurative in Scripture?  How can we better learn to hear the voice of God and be led by His Spirit in prayer? Where is God in the midst of my tragedy?

All of these and more are why this blog has begun. To start a conversation and help point us forward in our journey.

Questions like these (and many others) are what drive this blog. If all of us are honest, we have many questions. Inquires about life, purpose, direction, our faith, and so on. It is my prayer and hope that this blog can be a place where questions and topics can be explored which are relevant, important, and trans formative.

I make no claim to perfection. The beauty of this or any blog is in the mutual dialog that can take place. The goal is for this to be a community of fellow journey-ers that discuss, encourage, and learn from one another. It is my prayer that each blog entry that follows this beginning post would be a blessing to you. Whether they challenge, encourage, or make you think.

From time to time there may be an occasional book review, movie review, and other kinds of entries. There will be guest bloggers, interviews, and an occasional article from “outside” the common circle of Christianity. In all, I hope to make this a diverse blog with something for everyone.

In summary the purpose of this blog is to encourage, challenge, and strengthen our journey in becoming like Christ. The role of a pastor/ shepherd, as Eugene Peterson explains, is to “pay attention and call attention.” This means that with any topic a shepherd is thinking, listening, watching, wrestling followed by communicating what comes out of it. This blog is an outlet of that.

The target audience for the blog is first those I have the honor to lead @HighMill Church. Expect occasional entries on sermons, vision, testimonies and all things HighMill. The goal is to post 1-2 times each week. I also pray that what is here would somehow bless those outside HighMill as well.

Be sure and subscribe via email on the right hand side (widget button) so that you are able to stay caught up. If anything here challenges, teaches, or blesses you I encourage you to share it via one of the avenues below. The goal for any blog is to create community. So by following, sharing, and contributing–you are making that a reality.

Thank you and welcome to Christ and the Journey Ahead!

Noah D. Schumacher