Bet Against Yourself

lent

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”            (Romans 4:18-22)

Gambling is a growing reality in our culture. People often allocate significant money to play blackjack, the lottery, or bet on football games. The Super Bowl alone this year saw a guestimated 200 million people bet more than $10 billion. That is a lot of mullah/dough/jack/cheese/green backs. Betting is a big part of our culture and always has been. Every one of the original 13 colonies had lotteries to cover the cost of war, start institutions of higher learning, and/or just for plain old American greed purposes through horse racing, cock fighting or playing cards in back alleys and taverns. If you have never laid a bet on something, rest assured that someone in your family tree has. Betting is an American tradition.

This blog is not about betting for gain though. It is about betting against yourself hoping that your bet “pays off.”  That is to say, hoping that you personally fail so that you succeed as a gambler and win at betting against yourself.

(Stay with me for a minute. I’ll get us somewhere.)

Our flesh is weak. Sin is strong. We are lured by the thought of moments of ecstasy (or at least jubilation) through sex, money, experience, and power grabs. Quite often we can’t help ourselves. We are out of control. We know that those things should not be our objects of desire and satisfaction, but they are anyway. We need a new plan to stay out of trouble with our flesh. We have bet on ourselves to be able to handle everything in life, but we have lost every time. We need a new bet.

Highly detestable social sins aside, we are equally weak. We are full of pride, full of envy, prone to gluttony. We don’t easily face our inbred racism, and we likely are ignorant and/or indifferent of our classist ways. We love Jesus, but we hate the church. We believe in the truth of God, but we are suspicious of the scriptures. We want to be good, but perfection seems like an unreasonable goal. We are selfish, selfish, SELFISH! We need a new plan to overcome who we are. We have bet on ourselves to win at the Christian life, but we make very little progress on our own. We need a new bet.

Abraham is the father of our faith tradition (not Adam, not Noah, not Methuselah, etc.) because he bet against himself. He knew who he was. He knew his limitations. He knew his tendencies. He knew that on his best day he was not up to the task of helping himself, creating a name for his legacy, and especially not able to save himself from a life of meaningless toil. The hope he had in  himself was not enough to prevent the weight of the world from crashing in on him. He needed a new bet.

He bet on God because he believed deeply in God; deeply enough for him to pack up and head out to “a place God would show him.” He bet against himself and against life as he knew it so that God’s way/will could prevail in his life. He bet against his ability to bring forth a child and trusted in God’s promise, making it possible for his seed to be the seedling sect for all faith in YHWH. His “hope against hope” was the staking of his everything on God while abandoning anything he had in himself. He bet against his need to know where he was going and figured God knew the route best. His hope could no longer be on him or on Sarah. He would have to hope against himself and hope in something else.  His new bet was on God. And he bet well.

Ultimately, betting on God is not about right or wrong. It is not about winning or losing. It is not about heaven or hell. It is not about Israel or America. It is not about getting or giving. It is about faith. It is about hope. It is about love. And most importantly, betting on God is about Jesus, because when we bet on God to pick us up and carry us out, we get His answer in the life and ministry of Jesus – His son, our Lord. It is Jesus who pays off any debt we owe, and it is Jesus who tears apart the bounty death puts on us. Betting on Jesus to win the game of life is the only winning ticket we all can purchase. Check that: HE made the purchase. We just cash in the claim ticket.

“Jesus is so unbearably forgiving, so infinitely patient and so unendingly loving that He provides us with the resources we need to live lives of gracious response.”  (Brennan Manning from The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Most of the time, we need a new bet in life just to make it through the day. My advice to you is to bet against yourself. I am betting against me. Let’s bet on God. He will bring the biggest paydays we have ever known. Father Abraham will be our witness.

For Lent 2 /  March 1, 2015

Wanted: Good Music to Listen To

headphones and mic

Our acts of piety are instruments that, by the grace of God, do the work of aligning our heart, mind, soul, and body to values, priorities, and activities of the kingdom of God.                                                                         (Rowell – These Forty Days)

My son plays the trumpet. He also plays the guitar and he twangs a bit on the ukelele. I have overheard him playing a little on the keyboard that his mother uses to practice for church and he sounded pretty good on that too. If all goes well he will make the transition from trumpet to tuba for the marching band next year and I am so excited. I would bet he could also play the drums, the kazoo, and maybe the triangle without a single lesson. The kid seems to have some talent in his fingers that only his mother’s side of the family could have provided and my side is very, very thankful.

Not all of us will play an instrument (or 4) in life. Not all of us will have the interest or the discipline to try it. Music and the making of music will escape the ability and imagination of many of us. God help us because music has a way of touching our hearts and rubbing our soul in very meaningful ways. It is highly likely that those who never express themselves or experiment with music fail to be formed in ways that effect the body, mind, and soul. Playing a song or writing a song is a way of expressing something very deep within one’s soul that without such expression would be left to bounce around internally and break things. The song inside of us that is left unplayed or unwritten might very well break our heart, break our spirit, or just plain ole break us down.

Such is the Christian life.

What God has put inside of us with the presence of His Spirit is meant to break free from us in ways that enrich everything around us with faith, hope, and love. As we act faithfully and fervently our lives are singing a song – a God song – to the world around us. Such a God song projects what we know to be true about God through personal experience. We know that God is loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving. We know that God is able, sovereign, just, and certain in all things. We know that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. We know that God is in us, with us, and for us as we live and die. We know that “greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.” We know this and we believe this and by the grace of God and the willingness of our spirit our lives sing this to others.

And when our lives don’t sing such a God song we are quite likely singing the song of another god. That song for other gods are songs of sin, selfishness, shame, failure, fear. Those aren’t songs worth singing or writing. Those songs sound like broken down tunes without meaning or melody. Those songs need to be taken out of print and taken off our playlist as soon as possible and replaced by the song that our God is wanting to play. His song makes beautiful music and touches us (and others through us) in deep and meaningful ways.

Make no mistake. The song is God’s song. It is not a song about how great we are or how holy we are. It is a song about Him – His grace, His holiness, His greatness. We bring nothing to the song. He writes the song, publishes the song, conducts the song through His collection of instruments, and finally plays the song through us. He is all the talent. We are only His instruments to be used in making heavenly music. And when He plays…

Bravo, Bravo, Bravissimo!

Join God’s band/orchestra/symphony today. Confess sin. Turn away from shame. Quit living in alternative ways. Trust in Him to be the Savior He promises to be. Let Him change your heart. Rest in Him. Abandon the bad music you are making on your own. Play only God’s song from this day on.

Lent 1/ February 22, 2015————————————————————————

Psalm 25

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
6 Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
11 For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who is the man who fears the Lord?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
13 His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
14 The friendship[b] of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.

Things We Can’t Unsee

vision

Sometimes we don’t see things as clearly as they really are. Sometimes our eyes are blurry to the atmosphere around us. Sometimes the air around is heavy and keeps us from seeing things 20/20. Sometimes our hearts are just too heavy to see the world as it really is. Sometimes we just can’t see what is right before us and obvious to all.

I am thinking about the way we are troubled to see our challenges in personal health, personal finances, and personal safety. These are areas that, in most cases, we should see problems well ahead of their arrival. But, we usually don’t. They just appear; catching us off guard. Millions of people are devastated by letting their health go, not paying more attention to their money, and/or forgetting to protect themselves from dangerous threats or problems. We just don’t see in time to prevent it the issue or event that is about to hit us hard.

I am thinking about the way that relationships aren’t cared for properly until distance has built a wall between us and the ones we love. Married couples who grow apart; fathers too busy to spend time with sons; brothers too consumed with growing up to enjoy the few years they have together; friends too competitive to appreciate what they have in genuine friendship. We just don’t predict that we are – day by day – losing the gift of a person/people that make our world better, happier, and easier.

I am thinking about how many of us give very little attention to how we are really living. We weren’t designed to work all the time, but we are gifted for good works. We weren’t designed to pursue only pleasures in life, but we can’t live too seriously either. We weren’t designed to put ourselves in the center of every situation, every story, every scenario, but we sure do think a lot of ourselves. Our sight of just how shallow we are living is clouded by the temptations of living the good life and winning at all costs.

I am also thinking about the way we see God. Our view of God is too often shaped by religion and with religious guide rails. God is more dangerous than our Sunday School mind will allow us to see or wants us to see. We hold onto a vision of God that is good; loving; compassionate; helpful to us; and He is all of those things. But He is more than that – much more. He is fearless in the face of our faults. He is able in the places where we are undone. He is gentle in the way He affirms our faith and forgives our failures. He is mighty in the moments of our terror. He is holy, and we are helpless to the flesh.

Yet again, these are not things we can always see. We have to believe them to be true and trust in Him to come in ways that change our stars. Our way to faith is in knowing what (who) we cannot see and living in that knowledge, that revelation, that truth.

How do we know this to be true? Jesus. He is the one that comes to correct our vision from dark to light, from cloudy to clear, from jaded to joyful. He is the one who casts away the clouds of our doubt and clears our view with his eyes of faith, hope and love.

And when we are free to see Jesus as the image of God – creating, saving, sustaining us – the whole world appears different. As we look upon the image of God and stay fixed on that light, we not only see the way in His holy illumination, but we walk in fellowship with the source of all light. “Blurry vision” and “cloudy skies” may try to creep back into the corners of our lives. But when are looking in and through the eyes of God, we can see right through those things that try to distract us from seeing life clearly.

Some things in life we can’t unsee. It seems like Jesus is one of those things. Once we see him in his beauty and majesty, we never forget it. We might look away, or we might focus on another object for the moment, but we never forget that first glimpse of the One who casts heavenly light all over and into earthly darkness. His life is a sight to behold for every generation and every era.

May our eyes be open to the imminent presence of Christ, who has come to help us see the world for what it is, so that we may be free to follow him fully and with perfect vision. May the church proclaim the arrival of the One who has come, so that everyone may see the kingdom that God is bringing today and forever more. May we look past every other image in life and towards the ONE image that we never want to unsee – Jesus, the face of God who has come to set us free, give us life, and give us a new vision for his kingdom.

For the Last Sunday of Epiphany / February 15, 2015:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus sake. 6For it is the God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4)

Breaking News: Jesus Loves The Super Bowl

first super bowl

(Glendale, AZ) Just before kickoff of Super Bowl XLIX, a leading reporter sat down with Roger Goodell and an American pastor to talk about football, the big game, and God. NBCBSFOXABC was granted exclusive rights to the interview.

Reporter: Good afternoon on this beautiful Arizona day. A day like no other. All eyes are on the desert today as the Patriots play the Seahawks in the 49th Super Bowl. The game has come a long way since the very first one in L.A. featuring the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Goodell: You are exactly right. We are looking for a great game tonight with more than 120 million people watching on TV plus the 80,000 in the stands. That is more than 1/3 of the nation and many millions more around the globe that will tune in which we can’t account for. We are looking for more than 1 million tweets to be posted as well. This game is huge in every circle and with every age. Half of the viewers will be female. Adults and kids of all ages anticipate the Super Bowl all year long and watch even if their team isn’t playing. The Super Bowl is easily the biggest event of the year in America and will only keep growing as time goes on. I see a day when more than half of America is watching the SuperBowl as millions more join in world wide. This is the greatest day of the year for the NFL!

Reporter: Pastor, I guess that makes you pretty sad to hear.

Pastor: Why?

Reporter: Well, because Christianity has about a nineteen-hundred and fifty year head start on the NFL, but today there will be as many people watching the Super Bowl as attending church. Not to mention that those watching the Super Bowl will display their passion more freely and more greatly than anyone typically does in a worship service. Doesn’t that bother you?

Pastor: Not really. Pastors should not feel like the Super Bowl is a competitor. Truly it is widely popular, but comparing football and the Super Bowl to Christian worship is not necessary. God loves football and the Super Bowl. In fact, he has a favorite team in the NFL.

Reporter: Really? Who?

Pastor: Come on. Isn’t it obvious? The New Orleans Saints.

Goodell: Ummm…I am going to need to investigate that statement. There is a rule somewhere about divine intervention and competitive balance. l’ll need to look into that.

Pastor: I’m just kidding about the Saints, but God isn’t upset or mad about the Super Bowl. There is nothing sinful about football or the Super Bowl. Nothing wrong with people watching TV. Nothing wrong with eating pizza, brisket, or hot wings. Nothing shameful about friends getting together to share an entertaining event that includes laughter, conversation, and sharing life.

Reporter: Well, the big game is full of big fun. No one should be mad or against that.

Pastor: God is not against most of the things that culture offers. There are a lot of good things in this world to enjoy that are truly gifts of God. His hope is that all of humanity would enjoy the life that they have been given, and pausing from work to celebrate and laugh with friends is a big part of that. In many ways you might think of the Super Bowl as a metaphor of what the Kingdom of God could look like all of the time. People at rest, enjoying creation, celebrating, laughing, being filled with the joy of being together. Life is not all about work, and faith is not all about keeping rules or looking religious. God hopes that this is the best Super Bowl ever and that everyone who watches really enjoys themselves; inspired to find more than one day a year to play and relax together.

Reporter: How about that? Well said.

Goodell: Sounds great. I’m gonna trademark that for the NFL. That will be a whole new way to market the Super Bowl.

Reporter: Great idea, Roger. Get that right out to ESPN! An endorsement from God would really help your approval rating right now.

Pastor: Wait. I didn’t finish what I was saying. God does hope that the game tonight is a great one, but he wants that for every game and every day of our lives. It isn’t just God being pro NFL. He is “pro us”. Life is a gift and is meant to be full of fun and freedom to enjoy others. If only our focus wasn’t on the game, the commercials, the food, the interweb…

Reporter: What should be the focus, if not those things?

Pastor: Jesus.

Goodell: Bummer!

Reporter: Are you about to preach?

Pastor: No, but I would like to draw some comparisons between Jesus and the Super Bowl that might put into context what may be real fun and what truly is real life.

Reporter: Go ahead. I will give you the last word.

Pastor:

Thanks. I will be as clear as I can about seeing life (and the Super Bowl) as clearly as possible. It’s all about Jesus…

Jesus is more famous than the Super Bowl, but not as celebrated.

Jesus is more meaningful than the Lombardi trophy, but not as pursued.

Jesus is more filling than all of our half time food, but is much better for us.

Jesus is more exciting than the greatest halftime show ever, but not as scandalous.

Jesus is more beautiful than Tom Brady, but not as vain or cocky.

Jesus is more dangerous than the Seattle defense, but he does not talk trash.

Jesus is worth more than the cost of all the commercials, but he is not selling anything. He is giving away grace.

Jesus is more brilliant than Bill Belichick and never bends the rules to win.

Jesus’ only kickoff occurred at a wedding in Galilee.

Jesus’ has never fumbled, but he did spill his blood.

Jesus’ only wardrobe malfunction was at the foot of the cross when his clothes were taken by soldiers.

Jesus’ actions do not require instant replay because he is always perfect.

Jesus doesn’t need to win a game to prove his value or show his greatness. All of creation cries out that he is the Messiah.

Jesus’ greatest disappointment is that like the Super Bowl many people believe that following him is “just” a game and that “the game” only comes around once a year.

Jesus isn’t interested in creating moments that entertain us, programs that meet our felt needs, evidence that proves his relevance, or techniques that test our faith. He is interested in us. Every one of us. As we are. He wants to save us from our sin and from ourselves. He wants to free us and make us whole. He wants to exchange our shame and sorrow for his grace and glory. He wants to gather us unto himself for protection, fellowship, and service. Jesus wants us to trade our false idols of entertainment and experience that last only a moment by encountering him in his fullness, so that we are changed forever. He wants us to long for the Super Life in him instead of the Super Bowl of emptiness.

Jesus loves the Super Bowl, but he loves you and me more!

————————————————————————————————————-

February 1, 2015 – Epiphany 4 – The Epistle Reading:
Some people say, quite rightly, that idols have no actual existence, that there’s nothing to them, that there is no God other than our one God, that no matter how many of these so-called gods are named and worshiped they still don’t add up to anything but a tall story. They say—again, quite rightly—that there is only one God the Father, that everything comes from him, and that he wants us to live for him. Also, they say that there is only one Master—Jesus the Messiah—and that everything is for his sake, including us. Yes. It’s true. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6, The Message)