Viewing entries tagged
Salvation

Beyond Circumstances

Beyond Circumstances

Adolph Eichmann was the mastermind behind of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.  He was finally captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to trial 15 years after the war. Among the witnesses called to testify against Eichmann was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur. He had survived brutal torture in the death camp at Auschwitz. Dinur entered the courtroom and he stared at the man who had presided over the slaughter of millions, including many of Dinur’s own friends.

As the eyes of the victim met those of the mass murderer, the courtroom fell silent. Then, suddenly, Dinur literally collapsed to the floor, sobbing violently. Was he overcome by hatred? By memories of the stark evil that Eichmann had committed? No. As Dinur explained later in a 60 Minutes interview, what struck him was that Eichmann did not look like an evil monster at all…he looked like an ordinary person…Just like anyone else. In that moment, Dinur said, “I realized that evil is endemic to the human condition—that any one of us could commit the same atrocities.” In a remarkable conclusion, Dinur said: “Eichmann is in all of us.” In other words, we’re all equally flawed and yet that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Compassion is recognizing a person’s needs that’s merely different than our own.

Salvation. Is. The. Same. Way. 

In Ephesians, Paul is in jail – by his own people – for making salvation available to non-Jews. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem mad in the least bit, maybe because Paul didn’t see himself as any better. He doesn’t pray for circumstances to be better nor easier, simply “asking that the God may give you the Spirit of wisdom & revelation, so that you may know him better.” (1:17)

Paul shares how the Gospel changes everything—“…That may you have the power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (3:18). We don’t have to be defined by wealth, mistakes, luck, regret, broken relationships, class, or culture.

As we understand who we are in light of who God is, we emerge with a new identity. We are hidden in Christ, not buried by circumstances. Faith is knowing God’s present, able to redeem all things. As we seek to make amends or give up control, it begins with experiencing how deep & wide, how long & high of God’s love. That’s change from the inside out.

Longing for...Something

Longing for...Something

There’s a question that comes up a lot in my dealing with people from all walks of life. It’s the same question asked in so many different ways. Some struggle to find the words to ask directly, perhaps unsure of what they’re longing for. Others are more direct. Some people need reassurance while others are simply curious. 

The question is this, “Why do you believe?”

It’s a worthy question. And here’s my answer: I don’t simply believe because I am afraid of going to hell and being separated from the Light & Love of God when I die. I don’t believe because of the evidence of the factual and extra biblical support of the resurrection.  And, I don’t merely believe because the evidence of the Gospel is logically superior (to me) to all other religions. Those are all really significant and legitimate reasons to believe that have led countless people to personal allegiance with Christ.

Ultimately, I believe is because…in a world full of greed & corruption, excess & scarcity…in a world full of cancer, abuse, wildfires, racism, flooding & famine…in a world full of broken relationships & loss of loved ones, Christ comes to me as says, “you never have to be alone”.

This is the priceless gift of the gospel. Jesus is saying, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. No matter your doubts, fears, mis-steps OR your strength, wit, & smarts...It doesn’t matter how alone you are, what decision you’re facing, or what you’re going to have face in the coming days…He promises, “I am with you.” That’s why I believe. The option to live alone is always on the table. But, I choose infinite companionship with Christ.

I think we all long to find meaning, if not the sacred, at Christmas. To that end, I want to guide us this month through Advent by addressing some of our universal longings. Longings for Peace…for Joy…for Hope…for Love. All of these came in the form of a Christ child 2000 years ago but the promise of Christmas is that God’s with us and he will return.

Visit our Resource Page for explanation and Advent resources to guide your home and hearts through your Christmas longings.

Pick & Choose.

Pick & Choose.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. Like others, he held a sincere faith BUT he didn’t actually believe God to be present in the daily life. Jefferson was so heavily influenced by the Age of Enlightenment that he couldn’t believe Jesus was divine or the Son of God. As a rationale and moral man Jefferson valued the teachings. So, late in his life, with a razor in hand, He re-worked the Gospels. Jefferson literally edited numerous sections removing all miracles and most mentions of the supernatural. The Jefferson Bible, or what he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, begins with an account of Jesus’ birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection are also absent from his collection. 

Maybe if I helped found a nation and authored its laws, I might see myself able to tailor scripture to fit my worldview too. Being selective of God’s inspired Word might sound like a bold (if not, convenient) move, Yet I wonder...how much WE ‘pick-&-choose’ God’s revelation???  At first reading this, it seemed ridiculous to dismiss so much of Jesus’ life and ministry. But then it occurred to me…I do this All. The. Time…Ouch!

Christians follow Christ because they have presumably made Jesus their Lord. That means I have to work at following even when I doubt…when I’m afraid…when I’m bothered. It’s tempting to think there’s lots of things that the average Christian can’t do – like heal the sick, proclaim the Good News, respond to injustice, lead a person to Christ, or disciple them. Except, what if God intends this “Living Faith” to be the normal Christian life?

While many search for meaning, significance is found in saying ‘Yes’ to Christian community & the marginalized. It’s ‘Yes’ to new life & self-sacrifice. ‘Yes’ to giving & receiving mercy. We always get to pick-&-choose how we respond to God’s presence but learning to say, ‘Yes’ is our salvation. 

A Pregnant Pause.

A Pregnant Pause.

From the time her water broke to the time Annika arrived was 20 minutes. That sounds like a relatively easy labor. The problem was we lived a solid 15 minutes from the hospital. It was your classic 3:00am dash – running red lights, driving faster as the groans grew louder. Once inside, the staff was so intent on NOT delivering until the doctor arrived. At this point, Annika’s little head was crowning out of the birth canal. I hear nurses literally say to Laurel, ‘just relax…try not to push’. Fine! But gravity is an impossible negotiator!! As the doctor finally enters the room, she glares at the nursing staff and exclaims with a nervous smile, “Let that baby come out!!”

The doctor’s presence meant “salvation” had come. Delivery meant Deliverance – for Laurel, for Annika, and for this group of labor nurses. New Life had come!

On the day Jesus decided to visit the house of a Jewish tax collector named Zacchaeus, everyone cringed. He was a man who knew God’s moral law, justice and faithfulness yet lived with complete self-interest. He worked with the ruling elite in exploiting his own people (Luke 19). Yet, Jesus (who’s name means, ‘God saves’) publicly exclaims for all to hear, “Today salvation has come to this house!” Jesus didn’t say this because this man had right doctrine or recited a prayer but because of a confession and eagerness to make amends. Jesus’ presence in his home brought peace. His handling of him offered hope. A meal together meant an opportunity to turn.

This weekend, we’re gathering as Tribes to practice community and hospitality. It’s a chance to visit, pray, even plan to make faith and community accessible. Like Jesus, this is another chance to but the ‘divine of display’. You’re not just volunteering to host or bring a brunch items. You’re gathering in faith believing that God can revive even the most stressed hearts, stale marriages, and doubting minds! My prayer is that, like Zacchaeus, each of us would grow in a willingness to turn…turn toward being known, finding a contribution, compassion or obedience. And we’d increasingly turn away from doubt, fear, and temptation. Let it be said of Mission Hills, whether we gather for worship, for a meal, in service of needs, at a party, or among friends – ‘Today, salvation has come!’

Ordinary Miracle.

Ordinary Miracle.

I heard that when you spook an Armadillo, they jump straight up. Since these critters are good at digging up our lawn, I thought I could have a lil' fun at one's expense on my next encounter. So, on an early morning run, still mostly dark and no streetlights, it had rained during the night. A mile into my run (which happened to be a steep hill aptly named, Hillbilly), I see my opportunity ahead in the middle of a road. THIS…was my chance.

Without breaking stride on my run, I come up on it and start clapping and whopping. Except, it wasn’t an armadillo. That dark mass in the middle of the hill was a SKUNK!!

The wet hill was slick as I tried to stop but all I could do is helplessly slide toward the creature I just scared. Skidding up within a few feet of it before I stop, I clearly see the white stripe. Trying to avoid the aim of a raised tail, I turn to sprint up the hill – my feet grasping for traction like a cartoon character - barely escaping its spray like my life depended on it!

Do feel like you’re in a downward slide and can’t stop?  Ever find yourself face-to-face with a problem that you created but didn’t intend?  Do you find yourself trying to move but can’t get traction?

Of course we do. We run our course but it’s only when we realize – we can’t live the life we were called to on our own – that we are saved. I can’t save myself. I have a predisposition to slide into struggle and stupidity. St. Paul tells a group of Christians to “…work out their salvation”. It implies there’s BOTH a beginning AND a process. God makes us alive in Christ with each day, each blessing and each struggle. Perhaps the “ordinary miracle” of our salvation is that over time – almost without notice – God re-shapes the desires of our hearts. What’s more, we can find ourselves in a community of faith SO THAT God’s wisdom and care, inspiration and strength become tangible.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Corinthians 3:18

Mercy-full.

Mercy-full.

There was an odd game we used to play as kids called, “Mercy”. You might be familiar with this pain-inflicting game. Facing another person, you grab each other’s hands and begin applying pressure by “wrenching” on their hands or trying to bend them back. The goal is to inflict enough pain that the other person finally and reluctantly yells, “MERCY!!” At this point, you have a winner and, literally, a sore loser. Even without this game, it seems hard for most of us to ask for mercy. I wonder what is mercy and why do we struggle to ask for it…       

Mercy is a confession that rightfully says, “I need help.”  We cry out for it when we’re overwhelmed and in over our heads.  We cry for it when the pain is too great to bear alone.  We cry for mercy on behalf of another when it’s too much to bear.

We all value mercy. It’s just asking for it might feel like we lost. Or, it means admitting we can’t do it on our own. Other times, it reveals shortcomings that we have to own. All solid excuses for avoiding a request for mercy but, honestly, no good reason.

Here’s what makes asking so significant: Mercy reveals the Hope we have.

It's the Hope of Something Better. When it comes to salvation, mercy isn’t a loss nor does it mean we quit. It means we surrender to God’s compassion, forgiveness, and guidance. What’s more, the more we surrender to God’s mercy the more we become part of God’s healing and redemption on earth. That feels like hope for one and hope for all.

Weary travelers.

Weary travelers.

If you travel anywhere this summer (especially with kids), you’ll undoubtedly ask the question, "Are we there yet?”  I get it. I ask it all the time!  Maybe I don't ask it out loud and maybe not even during holiday travels.  But, I think we all have a restless, even impatient, desire to “arrive". When it comes to the journey God has me/us on, it's a real question:  Are we there YET???  Somehow, God's timing or my spiritual growth always feels slower than I want.

Faith is about the journey more than the destination. Paul says to “work out our salvation…” (Phil.2:12). The problem is…I don’t wanna work at what’s supposed to be a free gift?!?!  And yet, what we come to see is that our salvation is a relationship not a possession. Like any relationship, it grows with time, effort, care, and understanding. Paul goes on to say, “…for it is God who works IN YOU to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."

“To will & to act” means not just being “saved” FROM something (i.e. Hell), but saved TO something more! Working out our salvation – over time & with others – means an active shift in our hearts. Salvation does involve outward fruit – the way we love, serve, speak, and act. But it’s supposed to go deeper in shaping our desires, motives, attitudes, and ability to trust.

Our current series, “Saved” is a deep dive into the growing need of our salvation…as Strength, as Acceptance, as Shelter, as Freedom, as Present & Daily, as Healing, Identity, and Direction. Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mk.1:14). In other words, heaven is "here & now" not just "there & then". Not always but as we work out our salvation - becoming aware of God's presence & the Spirit's prompts - we're able to grow a little more heaven on earth. So, are we there yet? You decide.

Disguised as our life.

Disguised as our life.

LOVE. It has so much meaning yet it’s so hard to comprehend.

We desire & resist it. We seek & hide from it. We want & withhold it. 

Some suggest love is simple acceptance. But, real love also interrupts us! God is ‘abounding in love’ (Ex.34.6), and because of it, doesn’t leave us as we are.

The aim of Christian living is Divine union with God. That is, To know God’s love in such a way that it changes the way we love.

This isn’t something we can simply read about or hear a talk to understand. If we make the Christian life about knowledge, we miss out on the transformational impact of love. We need experience, which isn’t complete without failure and loss. We can Google instruction on filling out a tax form or installing a ceiling fan but most things are learned through actual involvement: A golf swing, a misunderstanding, baking, injustice, driving a car, dating, an interview, surgery. And so it is with Christian faith as we open our heart up to God.

Richard Rohr turned a phrase that’s been lingering about how God comes to us, “disguised as our life.” 

Hmm…It’s hard to imagine God as ordinary as our lives.

We often ask, “God who?”, God, when…?”, or “God, why…?” Yet, it’s through constant trials and temptations, God leads us forward through family, failure, friendship, marriage, loss, abuse, and success. There are no dead ends, no wasted time, no useless characters or meaningless happenings. All has meaning, and God is in all things waiting to speak and to bless. God not only redeems, he is “abounding in love”. 

It’s what we’re supposed to experience. And when we do, it’s transformational.