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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Keeping Faith In The Face of Evil - Living With Scars

            If you look closely at my right hand on the knuckles you will notice a significant L-shaped scar.  The story I love to tell about how I got this scar is it came about when I got into a fight in a bar one night.  This was before I was a follower of Jesus and my usual ending to the story is “And you should have seen the other guy!”  Of course, when I tell this story it gets all kinds of wide-eyed looks.  Until I confess it is a total fabrication.  The real story is much less…sensational.
            When I was young I had 26 warts and a bunch of them were on the back of my right hand.  This was before doctors understood that this indeed was one of those times where the best advice was to “rub some dirt on it.”  Or, at the least put some duct tape on it and they would go away.  Instead, one day I had the warts on my hand cut off and then burnt to cauterize them.  (I can still smell that smell!)  My Dad said I was very brave – didn’t cry at all.  The rest of the warts just disappeared after that.
            The result of the treatment was a scar that still helps me remember which hand is my right one and gives me opportunity to tell a pretty good sensational lie about how it got there.  That is the real story.

            Scars make for good stories.  Everyone has a scar story they love to tell.  The scar is a reminder you were injured and proof you survived.  They don’t go away – just a constant reminder that something went sideways.
            There are many scars we have that people can’t see.  They are the scars on our heart and soul, wounds as real and deep as the tearing of our flesh that left the external scar.  They don’t go away either – a constant reminder you were injured and you are still alive.
            In John 20:24-29 there is a curious story about Jesus proving who he is to Thomas by showing him the scars in his hands, feet and side.  Thomas was convinced when he saw the scars of Jesus.  The thing I find curious is the resurrected body of Jesus that had been healed of death and the brutality of his suffering still had these scars.  The scars defined Jesus and identified Jesus.  It seems like they are with him for eternity yet they don’t make him imperfect – they seem to add to his perfection.

            I recently reflected on some of my soul scars as I walked with people I love and care for.  They all had something to do with death – death of a dream or the physical death of a person.  Often, the two deaths were connected.  What had been hoped for down here was taken when they passed from this life to the next.
            The stories that go with these scars are rarely shared and usually only with those we are most intimate with.  They are too deep, too painful these stories.  They are sacred and precious, not to be wasted.  Like the scars of Jesus, we are shaped and identified by these scars.  But Jesus wants us to be defined by his scars not ours.  The scars of Jesus are the promise of ultimate healing, ultimate restoration.  The scars of Jesus tell us death does not win.  Jesus wins.  Let Jesus redeem your scars.  It is the greatest story that can be told.

Peace and grace,

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–58, NLT)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Have You Forgiven God?

            Life doesn’t turn out the way we planned, that’s a fact.  And somebody needs to be held responsible.  A lot of people put it at the feet of God. 
It is easy to do when things outside of our control impact our life.  Natural disasters (the insurance industry used to call them “Acts of God”), illness, disease, and crime can all be attributed to God’s direct responsibility or his negligence.  Either way, God’s the one who we hold accountable.
The bad, stupid or wrong things we do are a little harder to pin on God but we find a way to do it.  God should have intervened, he should have stopped us, he should have sent someone to direct us otherwise.  God should have…  God is responsible.  It’s God’s fault.  Since God is responsible for the misery of the world and the misery of our lives, it is appropriate to ask, “Have you forgiven God?
A number of years ago Gene Edwards wrote a small book about John the Baptist called “The Prisoner In The Third Cell.  The big idea of the book has stuck with me like few have.  Edwards makes the point that John did everything right.  He served Jesus faithfully.  He spoke boldly.  He was humble and faithfully pointed people to Jesus.  And they chopped his head off.  He is not the God of your expectations.  This is Edwards point.
Nothing reminds us of this truth more than when life goes sideways on us.  The pain is real.  The disappointment, anger and frustration are overwhelming.  The anger is consuming because God did not meet our expectations.  Therefore God is responsible and we need to forgive God.  Unless… our expectations are wrong.
Where did you get your expectations about what God is and isn’t supposed to do?  How have your expectations of how life is supposed to work come about?  If you are holding God responsible for any and every bad thing that ever happens in the world and your life you surely didn’t get your expectations from the Bible.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus~ (John 16:33)
God is not seeking our forgiveness but he is longing for our confession.  Confessing to God we are hurting, disappointed, frustrated, lonely, sad and depressed is to yield to him.  Confession is accepting the truth that God is God and you are not.  It is putting things back in right order.  It is, according to Jesus, the path to peace even in the midst of tribulation.
God is all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing.  He doesn’t need to repent to you or me about anything.  But because he is all-powerful and all-good he reaches down into our pain with a hand of compassion and whispers gently in our ear, “I’m so sorry you are in pain.  Let me hold you until we get home.”
He is not the God of your expectations.  And that is a good thing.

Peace and grace,


Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Reasonable Faith - All Paths Lead To God, Right?

            More than ever we live in a sound-bite world.  If you are going to compose a Twitter message (a “tweet”), you only have 140 characters to get your point across.  If you are going to do a Vine video, you have six seconds.  Snapchat can share pictures with others for just a few seconds and then be erased forever (unless your friend takes a screenshot before it disappears – beware!).      
What would Jesus tweet?  Or, if we want to create another best selling religious kitschy product – WWJT?
            How about this:  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  That is 138 characters.  A little harsh – did Jesus really say that?  That just seems so, well, narrow!  (Yes, he did say that.  See Matthew 10:37)
            OK, then how about this:  Com 2 me all who labr & r hvy ladn & I will giv u rest. Take my yke on u & lrn frm me 4 I am gntle & lwly in hrt & u will find rest for yur souls.”  That is a tough one to tweet!  In fact, I went 6 over my limit of 140 characters even after doing a whole bunch of editing of words.  Jesus needs to be more to the point don’t you think?  I didn’t even get the best part in:  “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (See Matthew 11:28-30).
            Is there anything Jesus said that is a great tweet, clear, concise, to the point?  Here’s one of his best – and it is only 88 characters long:  I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Now, that is short, to the point, clear, concise – and exclusive.  (It comes from John 14:6.)
            Here is a dirty little secret – all religious beliefs and worldviews are exclusive.  They all make claims that they say are true and the truth, challenging us to accept or reject them.  Yes, even the atheistic worldview and a “tolerance” worldview is exclusive.  A statement like “All truth is relative” is an exclusive belief and is really saying, “All truth is relative – except my one statement that all truth is relative – that is an absolute truth.”  Huh?
            When you really look at what Jesus said, you will come to the conclusion that Jesus calls for a decision to be made.  His love is made available to all but it requires a choice to receive it or reject.  For God so loved the world that he gave his son…”  We like those words.  It is a great tweet with 47 characters left over!  But the words don’t end there, the message is incomplete to stop there.  “…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (You'll find this in John 3:16.)
            Do all paths lead to God?  Yes they do.  But when you get to God, what is he going to say?  The historic, orthodox Christian faith believes God will say, “What did you do with my son, Jesus?  Did you believe in him?  Did you receive him?”
            And here is God’s tweet – it is  195 characters but that’s OK because he’s God, right?
“But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  (That’s John 1:12-13)
            So, how about you?  What are you going to do with Jesus?  God is going to ask.

Peace and grace,


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Prayer for the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors

Each month I get to open the Board of Supervisors meeting in prayer.  Here is my prayer for March 4th, 2014.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the clouds you have brought our way.  Thank you for the promise they hold of rain and snow that will replenish the land, lakes, rivers and streams of our county.  I pray you would continue to bless us with the clouds.  I pray they would continue to pour out rain and snow so our farmers, vintners, ranchers, river companies, ski resorts and all the other businesses that depend upon water would be blessed.  Thank you for the reminder through the clouds of just how little we control in life and are in need of grace each day.
            Thank you for the great place we get to live in El Dorado county, help us never forget just how blessed we are.  Thank you for the men and women in this room and throughout the county who are committed to preserving and strengthening the best things in this county.  Let there be wisdom, insight and kindness in everything they do today as they care for the people of El Dorado County, not just the land and its resources.
            As young men and women leave this county to be equipped to defend our country we pray you would go with them to protect them and strengthen them.  Be with their families to comfort them.  As other young men and women return from serving us by serving our country we pray for peace and healing upon them.
            Be with those who serve us each and every day in law enforcement, emergency services and medical services.  Protect their hearts, minds and bodies in an increasingly dangerous and ugly world.  Help them to stand for justice and walk in integrity, to protect the weak and vulnerable, to stand against evil wherever it may be found.
            Thank you for your continued blessings.  Please continue to pour out your provision and blessings upon us so we can be a blessing to others.

I pray these things in the name of Jesus.  Amen.