See What You Want To See

glory of god

Sometimes in life we see the things that we are looking for and miss seeing the things that we aren’t expecting. We become small minded and limited in our creativity when we are looking for something in particular instead of searching for everything in general. Whatever is on our minds or in our hearts becomes the obsession that are eyes are peeled to find. Humans have the special ability to focus on the desires we crave while ignoring the beauty that is all around us. And we miss so much because of it.

We look for the easy route instead of the road less chosen. We search for the perfect house for our family instead of the special home to share life together with them. We see the bad in others before we see the good. We live defeated in our weaknesses rather than celebrating our strengths. We fret about what is missing instead of what has been gained. We hope for the best, but expect the worse in ourselves, our work place, our government, and even our churches. We miss so much because we are looking in the wrong place or for the wrong thing.

It’s not just our problem currently. It is a man/woman problem for many generations. And it isn’t just about missing things in everyday life or in everyday choices. Our ability to see what we are looking for and miss the things that are unexpected gifts often occurs in our encounters with God. God shows up and we are looking elsewhere.

When Solomon brought the ark into the Temple built for the Lord to dwell something amazing happens. A grand parade led by the elders processed into Jerusalem, everyone offered sacrifices (according to their practice) like never before. The cherubim spread out their wings for the ark to rest on and not be profaned. The two tablets of Moses rested in the most holy of places it had ever resided among the people of Israel. And a great cloud descended and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And King Solomon, man did he wax poetic in telling what he had done and what his doings now meant to Israel and to God. Then the King prayed one heck of a prayer and really got Israel fired up over how he had fixed things proper for God. Israel now would be special because they had kept God first and put His holy things in a most holy place.

God, you are welcome. Signed, Israel and King Solomon. (See 1 Kings 8 below.)

In case you missed it in the previous full paragraph I would like to point out that as awesome as this special service of temple dedication was, missed in the grandeur of the King and the sacrifices of the priests was a great cloud and the glory of God filling things up. Read the fine print. It is there. God came down and Israel was looking at how great they were rather than how awesome it is to see God in His fullness in your midst. Everyone was seeing what they wanted to see in the form of a new temple, a great religious celebration, and a king that spoke words that aligned the nation with God. Good news and a very good show.

But they looked past the greatest detail of the story being told. God was there. He was not far off in the past or in the future. God – the one of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – was very much present and showing off for this special occasion. Nothing they were doing was wrong or even unnecessary, but in their religious fervor the most important detail plays second or third fiddle in the story. They were too busy getting their worship on to notice what God was up to in the moment. That is the worst of possible outcomes when singing, praying, preaching at or about God.

To be clear, we are always in the presence of God. Never are we absent from Him. He is all things “omni.” But there are moments – sacred moments- when God shows Himself in an almost overwhelming way to us. Maybe it is in a worship service, maybe a wedding/funeral, maybe on a walk through the forest, maybe on a flight to Timbuktu, but it happens and we never forget it. What we are doing is always the secondary detail of what He is doing.

Listen close. In those moments that God shows off in such a way – shut up and get very still. It is not about the experience or the memory being made. It is about taking notice of the God of all time – the Alpha and Omega – coming close enough for us to almost see and certainly near enough for us to feel. Don’t mess up the moment with unnecessary words or thoughts reminding Him of how faithful or good you have been. Be still, be quiet, be changed forever.

Today when you roll into your church for the worship service make sure you are looking for the glory of God. If you aren’t looking for it you certainly won’t see it. You might walk in and out of the sanctuary happy your songs were sung and upset the sermon was too long, but ready to get to Luby’s for lunch. That will be time wasted. So much more is happening when we worship. Don’t miss it by looking for the wrong things or remembering the minor points. Don’t tell God how great you are or how awesome your church is. He already knows and couldn’t be more impressed.  🙂

The glory of God is filling this earthly temple and we all need to see that personally so that our lives are changed forever and our faith is full of the beauty of almighty God. Encountering God in His glory is the only worthy moment worth remembering.  See for yourself today. If that’s the kind of thing you long to see.

For Proper 16 – August 23, 2015 – Sunday————————————–
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 2All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. 3And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. 4So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 5King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 6Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 7For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 8The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. 9There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” 14Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. 15He said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David, saying, 16‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.’ 17My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to consider building a house for my name; 19nevertheless you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 20Now the Lord has upheld the promise that he made; for I have risen in the place of my father David; I sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21There I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”        (1 Kings 8)

Dear God, Are You Serious?

morgan-freeman

Excuses, Reasons, Roadblocks, Concerns. These are what we are tempted to give to God when He opens a door in front of us that we are either not expecting or not quite ready for. We immediately move into telling God the “whys and why nots” of what He has asked of us. For every opportunity God provides, we are likely able to produce multiple points of argument against His proposal, divine though it may be.

We may occasionally wonder why God didn’t see all of the reasons/issues/challenges that we can so clearly see and freely point out to Him. Frankly, sometimes God surprises us by how little thought he puts into the opportunity He has presented us. We may wonder to ourselves if God is serious about what He is suggesting or calling us to.

We might remember saying something like this…

“It’s not the right fit for me.”

“The timing is completely off.”

“That’s too much to ask of me or my family.”

“That won’t work!”

“God, You just don’t seem to understand why I can’t just step out on faith and do what You are suggesting. You may be Almighty, but I’m not. And I have needs – physically, socially, financially, romantically, professionally. What you are asking me to do or to become conflicts with so many of my needs and alters the balance of my life and family.”

Anxiety over where God is leading (or just plain old rebellion) comes close to getting the best of our relationship with God. Simple math gives us many reasons why we can’t do it. He can’t be serious. So, we throw on the brakes to things suggested by God for us to try or take as our next pursuit. While I feel ashamed of my thoughts and debating with God, He feels sorrow for me – His beloved child- who, believing in His existence, has trouble trusting in the promises of God to create and care for me in steps of faith.

Perhaps we should settle in our hearts once and for all that when God calls us to act in a particular way He is not joking. He is not acting rashly. He is not kidding. He is serious. He is serious because faith is not a static reality. Faith is dynamic which means a whole lot of things for us, but particularly means that trusting and obeying is involved. We don’t just determine in our mind that one day we will trust God and obey Him without actually acting on our belief. We must actively/dynamically trust and obey Him as both a lifestyle and a daily agenda. God’s requests, requirements, and risks for us are not tests of our faith. Rather, they are petitions for us to separate (or detach) from our selfish ways so that we may attach to those glorious plans He has in His heart for us.

Fellowship with Jesus and obedience to his commandments come first, and all else follows. Worldly concerns are not a part of our discipleship, but distinct and subordinate concerns. Before we start taking thought for our life, our food and clothing, our work and families, we must seek the righteousness of Christ.     (Bonhoeffer – Cost of Discipleship)

God is serious about our faith in Him being active and all encompassing. Anxiety about what will happen to us or what we will lose our how we will be affected is a temporal concern that should not separate us from eternal fellowship and glory. God is serious about giving us a vision for what life in Him is like and how it opens up windows for us to see heaven on earth. Serious enough to send His Son so that we may know Him in His fullness and follow Him in his infinite wisdom. Serious enough to move heaven and earth so we may know how much He loves us and longs for us to love Him in return. Serious enough to open doors for us to abandon our ordinary, routine, selfish lives so that we can be a people of faith, hope and love in word and deed. Serious enough to offer us a new vision, a new journey, a new life in exchange for our beat up, burned out, busted up plan of self survival.

God is not done with me yet. Neither is He done with you. He is serious about who we are and what we are doing with the Who that He sent us to know. So, let’s stop giving God reasons why He can’t do something in or with us and start giving Him full control of our hearts. Let’s get serious about God working eternal life into us here and now.

Proper 15 – Week of August 9, 2015——————————————————————————
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6)

Is God Fair?

justice

Nearly everyday, I go for a walk. I do it for me, and I do it for my doggie because exercise is good for us. It is time well spent. I also do it for my neighbors and the cars that drive through the neighborhood because every time I walk, I pick up nails, glass and construction debris that would cause great mischief to tires or shoes. One little nail in the tire can cost between $5 and $500 to repair or replace a tire(s). One little nail in the shoe might cause a more expensive trip to the ER. That is money most of us don’t plan to expend for transportation or medical care.

Today I picked up 5 nails/screws that had fallen off of construction trucks and lay waiting in the street to ruin somebody’s day. Usually I pick up 2 or 3. Add it all up, multiply it, divide by 2, and I think over the last 3 years I have picked up 1,000 nails, screws and sharp things. That is a lot of tires I have saved. That is a lot of money I have kept in the pockets of the families of Northpointe. That is a job well done by a boy on a walk with his dog. Since I have “paid it forward” for nearly 3 years, surely God will make sure I never get a nail in my tire or my foot. That just wouldn’t be right. That would not be just – not fair – at all.

Except that my wife just called, and we have 2 tires that need to be replaced because of nails, screws and sharp things. The cost will be $475 for two tires replaced and balanced. That is just my luck! Where is the justice? How could God let this happen to me? This isn’t fair at all!

When we think that by doing something good we are preventing something bad from happening, we are not pursuing a path of justice. That is a path of karma. Karma and justice often get mixed together when we are considering or commenting on things happening in life. Most often we think that if something happens to someone bad, that justice was served. In ministry we will think that by serving God we are due for reward (or at least for protection from harm or hurtful happenings). That might be thought of as justice by many people, but it is more like karma and karma is a false philosophy. So don’t buy into it.

Most of the time we have our definition of justice all wrong. Justice is not about being fair or making things fair in life. Justice is not a new fangled political action or platform on which to build your identity. Justice is not a about keeping or upholding the legal letter of the law, and finally Justice is not (merely) a clothing store for tween girls.

Justice – God’s justice – is a whole other cool thing. And just to be clear, the pursuit of justice is not something new that was birthed in this millennium by hipster Christians. Justice – God’s brand  of justice – is as old as Israel and as modern as the new heaven and the new earth on the horizon. This kind of justice is rooted in God, but branched out through Christian action and witness. We don’t own or control God’s justice. Instead, we act on behalf of just causes that matter to our just God. Causes like water, earth, orphans, world peace, sanctity of life and the homeless are near the heart of God and therefore are to be near the heart and hands of Christ followers. Justice is not an “add on” to the Christian life. It comes standard in how we join ourselves together with other believers in mission and ministry.

Acting justly in our world is not about creating a climate where everything is fair, or whereby doing good we prevent harm from coming our way. Justice is about working to make things right that have been wrong. The work of justice in a religious sense is about acting rightly in a situation where wrong has been done. Acting justly is acting righteously with purpose, conviction and cause. It is setting to right what has been turned or twisted in life. When we do work in a just way, we are setting aside our own claims to privilege or profit for the purpose of guaranteeing that others receive equity when they can not claim it for themselves.

The focus of our work is to make the world a better place by announcing that God’s righteous kingdom has come. We are to be both a righteous witness and a righteous warrior for others who are caught in the weight of the world so they may encounter our just God in ways they never before thought possible. Likewise, we are to band together in Christian unity and say enough to the powers that be in our world who make victims of so many people, places and things.  To be clear though, it is not our justice or American justice or any other brand of organized justice that we are working to provide. It is the justice of God who desires to fix broken things, help broken people, restore broken families, redeem broken governments. He is not just a “fix it” God. He is a righteous Father who by His very nature restores order, reclaims the lost, and recreates beauty in our lives. No matter what sentence life has pronounced over us or over those we serve, God’s justice speaks love and mercy into us and into them, causing us/them to turn away from what is wrong in life and turn into God to receive Him fully.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.

For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.

The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
(Psalm 37:27-34)

Justice is precisely what God is doing to bring His kingdom into the world’s view because justice is who He is. When we see or hear justice planted into dysfunction we are witnesses to one of God’s mighty acts. The grace of our Lord poured out for us preaches justice in the desperation of all people. Even those who don’t know they are desperate benefit from the justice of God announced in the ministry of Jesus and carried forward in the work of the church through the ages. When we care for the orphan (and the widow), we are joining God in his justice mission by helping kids and strengthening the family. When we protect the unborn we are joining God is his life giving work to the world of a new gifted generation. When we oppose slavery, speak up to protect/preserve marriage and appropriate family structures, pick up those in poverty, shelter those who are homeless, give water to the thirsty, preserve both the beautiful and the ugly places of the world for another generation, we are agents of justice in an unjust world bent on turning in on itself. Speaking up for and doing justice work for the kingdom of God and that is a calling worthy of our full pursuit and investment.

Is God fair? Maybe. Are some lucky to be born into faith? Probably, but those are the wrong questions to be asking about God. Those questions are more about us than they are about Him. Is God righteous and just? Absolutely! And the more you grow to know Him, the more you will trust in Him to bring righteousness and justice – His righteous, life giving justice – into your world.

Thanks be to God for calling us to such a place in such a time as this. There are so many causes and conflicts waiting for a bold witness to speak faith, hope and love into chaos and confusion. May the righteousness of Christ flow through us in a just way so we may work for justice for those hoping to see a sign from God in their life. Let this be a week/month/year where we see clearly what our calling is so that we are certain in what we our being poured out for.