The Jesus Life Is Like A Game Of Checkers

checkers-corbismkbHow is life like a game of checkers?  Well let me tell you.

I was minding my own business as I turned onto 7th Ave off of 19th Street in Moline, IL.  I had just started praying one of my favorite Bible scriptures, Psalm 103:1-5.  I had just gotten to verse 4 and was declaring, “You crown me with loving kindness.”  Right at that moment I saw of vision in my minds eye.

I saw a checker board while at the same time perceiving a voice saying, “King me.”  This inner image came unpremeditated out of nowhere.  Therefore, my best guess was this was a spiritual touch of the Holy Spirit.

In nearly an instant, I also knew it was a revelation (inner clarity) of how life in Christ is designed by God to be.  Many of those reading this right now are experiencing the hard stuff of life on planet earth.  I share my vision here that it might become fresh inner clarity for you.

In the game of checkers, the object is to get one’s single checkers to the back row of his/her opponent without their checker piece being taken first.  Once that happens, the person declares, “King me.”  Just like the picture, the single piece is doubled.  It’s now been crowned with greater power of movement on the board.  Plus, once a king is made, the other single pieces can no longer take that piece.

The word translated loving kindness is a Hebrew word that stands for a special, unrelenting, persistent, merciful, love and bond that God has for His people.  It is a word that is not used indiscriminately for the kindness of one person to another, in general.  It’s the kind of care and provision that is given to those who are bound together with one another in everlasting covenant.

In this checker board vision, the Holy Spirit was picturing the reality of your and my life in Christ Jesus.  He has “King-ed us” with His unique royal crown that gives us the ability and right to “reign in life through the One Christ Jesus.” (Romans 5:17) Regardless of your circumstances today, reality is (contrary to what it may seem) “you are the head and not the tail.  Above only and not beneath.” (Duet. 28:13)

Be re-couraged by that reality.  Go ahead.  Move today with the heart of a King.  You are.  Kings fight battles, and the King of Kings always wins.  He has crowned you as His Co-Regent.

Gary

 

 

If Jesus Were A Blogger

logo6 For the second day in a row, I’m going to link to a blogger I recently discovered.  Jamie expresses thoughts that I, myself, feel deeply about.  Therefore, instead of re-inventing the wheel, I’m going to let her use her own words as kindred thoughts of mine.  You can get happy or mad HERE. 

Don’t forget to come back to this page and leave your own observation in my comment section!

Gary

 

A Sane Look At “Mental Illness”

Mental Illness

Yet again we find more reasons to fight each other than discover God’s grace together.  The subject and question is what really causes mental illness.  it’s at pandemic stages and, in one way or another, has impacted every level of society with despair, frustration, guilt, misunderstanding and further dividing debate.

I’ve been wanting to address the issue from my pastoral perspective for awhile now.  Then I read this blog post by Frank Viola.  I believe it’s balanced perspective is where I reside.  Therefore, I’m not going to attempt re-inventing the wheel.  Instead, I’m going to link you up here.

Has Frank’s wisdom been helpful to you? 

Gary

Pastor Rick Warren Grief

Rick WarrenIn light of recent posts on questions in our walk of faith, it’s appropriate to give a response to the tragedy and grief that Pastor Rick and Kay Warren are experiencing at this time.

I’m on the Saddleback Church email list and therefore received the following prayer request from Pastor Warren:

“Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.  No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.”

His email went on to say that his son had died at his own hands, and gave further explanation.

Rick’s request was for prayer and therefore that is primarily what I request you to do.  Pray for the grace of God to bring supernatural peace to their home and wisdom for the days ahead.

Pastor Rick had many advocates.  He also had his share of detractors.  To both I say that its time to be “touched by the feelings” of Rick and Kay’s sorrows.

Of course, there immediately arises the “Why” questions.  Does it matter at this moment?  Does it really?  The answer to the why questions rarely produce the hoped for peace, anyway.  So, there are also appropriate times to not look for answers.

I vividly remember a pastor from my past that came to the visitation of the death of a child of the congregation.  The circumstances were tragic.  Since he was new to the church, he didn’t know the family, nor the child laying in front of him. 

Many people had been sincerely trying to offer words of comfort and hope.  He just stood there with the relatives and wept.  He finally walked away and out the doors with deep feelings of defeat.  He hadn’t “done his job”…especially as the new pastor, he groaned within.

A few weeks later, he was approached by one of the family members.  To his surprise the words he heard were, “Your presence was the most comfort of all.  You cried with us.”

There have been times that I’ve taken my lead from that example.  I’ve received the same response.

In the midst of grief, words seldom provide what’s intended.  At those times let your words be to God (Who understands how and where to touch the inner grief and questions).  Let your tears be shared with the people.

Gary

 

 

 

What Jesus Doesn’t Call Us To

a keyboard question mark key under warm colour lighting

Jesus invites His “believing ones” to many wonderful things.  Challenging things.  Happy things.  Hard things.  One thing He doesn’t invite us to participate in is…(wait for it)…

Although our life is to be a walk of faith…a good fight of faith…it’s not meant to be a life of blind faith.

Instead of blind faith, Jesus calls His believing ones to a life of childlike faith.  Jesus instructed His followers that His Kingdom was like little children.

I’ve heard and delivered several teachings to illustrate what Jesus was declaring.  But one of the clearest pictures of a “believing one’s” Kingdom life I saw was in the first word uttered by my oldest daughter, Julie.  Her first syllables weren’t mommy or daddy.  The first sound that intelligibly fell from her tiny lips was the question, “Why?”  [At least that's the way I remember it.]  She was the poster child for being inquisitive.

Childlike faith is questioning faith.  Although that sounds like an oxymoron to far too many Christ followers, asking the hard, uncomfortable, difficult questions is more or less a necessity for taking our own balloon of faith and filling it with the air of life.

As my own Christian life experience has expanded and grown, I’ve gone from my beginnings as a Baptist, then a Charismatic (neo pentecostal), on to what was labeled, Word of Faith, then to the Revival Culture label and what some may perceive as Post Evangelical or Emergent leanings.

The things is….and this is a very important “the thing is”… I still embrace the basic core or heart of all of the systems of faith I just labeled. 

I realize that I have some readers who are, more than likely, scandalized that I declared an affinity to Emergent or Post Evangelical considerations.  Others may be declaring with sinking heart, “Oh, no!  You no longer believe in Revival Culture.!?”  To that I would respond to both, “Did you read the last part of the previous bolded paragraph?

You see, I haven’t left anything important in any of the expressions listed.  They all hold Jesus in common as the Way, Truth, and Life.  I also believe (and always will) that “He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed…”  I have not “grown past” the foundational realities that hold true as expressed by all of them.  I believe we are called to be His re-presenters and it’s a part of our privilege to raise the dead, heal the sick, and cleanse the “leper.” I believe Jesus provides forgiveness from sins.  I believe God’s design is for us to prosper in all our ways. I have also become convinced that any man made explanation or definition of the Jesus life is not necessarily inaccurate, but most certainly is incomplete.  I have embraced the quality of choosing the intellectual elasticity and authenticity of being teachable.

I appreciate many teachers, male and female, contemporary and vintage, denominational and non denominational, conservative and fundamental.  I also relish the fact that I must believe in a God that is bigger than my brain.  I am skeptical about phrases that are presented with an air of authority declaring something is or isn’t biblical or scriptural.  In my personal opinion, statements like that would actually be better stated, “From my understanding (this or that is or isn’t) biblical/scriptural.”  Otherwise, as a declarative, “that’s God’s final answer” statement on what is scriptural/biblical or not, the attitude is bordering on arrogant, religious, self deception.

When my daughter, Julie, asked so many questions, she wasn’t denying her love for me, or her faith in me.  As a matter of fact, quite the opposite.  She was desiring to learn.  She had confidence that I loved her and that she could ask me anything. 

So, if you desire growth and maturity in your own faith, don’t run away from the hard, uncomfortable, difficult questions.  Also don’t be afraid to not have the answers quickly or ever on this side of forever.

Finally, be a safe place where others can ask you the hard, uncomfortable, difficult questions.  Earn their respect by listening and telling them you don’t know when you don’t.  Make sure to always affirm them by telling them that you appreciate their question.  That it’s a good one.  See…the thing is…they don’t always expect you to know everything.  What they do hope for is your respect and honesty.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions…even the one’s you are afraid to ask out loud in front of your other Christian friends at church.  God isn’t threatened.  He likes it that you want to be authentic and realin your faith.  He loves for you to grow by coming to conclusions from your own questioning.

Like Paul said, “I don’t know if I got this from the Holy Spirit or not”…but….I really don’t think He’s very keen on His kids demonizing people who don’t see things in the Bible and about faith the way they do.  Nope.  Not so much.

I heard a self proclaimed conservative protector of the faith say recently, “One big problem I have with guys like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren is that they ask a lot of questions but never give any answers.”  Okay, I appreciate being made to wrestle with hard questions.  And, I think these men ask some good, challenging ones that can’t be easily dismissed and deserve thoughtful prayer and pondering.  That doesn’t make them “snakes in the grass” like I’ve heard some comment.  That’s what I mean by “demonizing” people who don’t color on your page.

What do you think?  Or, is that beyond your comfort zone?

Gary

 

 

Things To Doubt

PowerPoint-Template-Doubting-Thomas-Touch_slide1_390x294

It may be good to doubt what you think you know about Doubting Thomas.  In fact it may also be good to doubt what you think you know about doubt, itself.

Thomas has been the subject of thousands of sermons and illustrations over the years.  The focus of those stories has been less than flattering.  In fact – what I consider – a misinterpretation of the scene as a whole has led many sincere followers of Christ down the slippery slope of shame and discouragement.  When they could be discovering important lessons in their own school of faith, they point to Thomas and the words that Jesus spoke to him.  They often feel hopeless.

May I suggest a few thoughts for your consideration:

  • Jesus wasn’t shaming Thomas.  The only way you can get that out of the exchange in John 20 is to read it into Jesus’ words.  I’d like to suggest that Jesus was simply making a statement of fact.  Instead of shame, I would claim that he’s encouraging Thomas and those listening to a higher level of faith experience.  Emotions that preachers include in their interpretations are not necessarily inspired by the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus knew the quality of Thomas’ character.  Just a short time earlier, Thomas was with Jesus and the other disciples.  It was at the occasion of Lazarus’ death.  The times were extremely dangerous, politically and religiously.  When Jesus said he was going to go to Lazarus, Thomas said, ”Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  (John 11)  That’s extreme dedication.
  • Jesus would have known Thomas’ disappointment and discouragement.   I would have been.  You would have been.  The dashed hopes would have filled us with deep sorrow and perplexity.  It’s been suggested that Thomas was simply an honorable critical thinker.  That would be another way of saying that Thomas was someone who relied on their own powers of reason.  I “doubt” that.  It was more sorrow and perplexity than a show of academic prowess.
  • Jesus wasn’t comparing Thomas with the other disciples.  “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).  Jesus reference to those who have not seen but believed were not the other disciples standing there with him.  Read back a few verses.  Jesus had already been with them, earlier.  They had already seen (and possibly touched) Jesus.
  • Doubt and lack of faith are not the same thing.  It’s been preached that way for so long that people automatically assume that to be true.  But, in the New Testament, the Greek words for doubt are entirely different than Jesus used with Thomas.  In fact, the Apostle Paul indicated in 2 Corinthians 4:8 that he was often in perplexities.  The word for perplexity that Paul used is also translated as doubt in other places.  It’s a word that means, “not knowing what to do or think.”
    That’s where Thomas found himself.  Like Paul at times, He was bewildered.  He was in the state of questioning and wondering “what’s up?”
  • He said, “My Lord and My God.”  Yes, his senses helped him, but when He recognized Jesus, you might say, “he came to his senses.”  He revealed where his heart had been all along.  In fact, Thomas became the disciple who established the church of India.

If I might suggest an alternate understanding to what has become religious conventional thinking, Jesus was being very kind and compassionate to Thomas.  He was using this occasion to also teach he and the others.  He was also warning him, “Don’t let your sorrow take you to places where you don’t come back.”

In the times we live, faith is our most valuable resource.  We all need to be pressing toward the mark of the highest kind of faith, that which keeps acting on God’s word, even when there’s no natural, touchable, see-able evidence to warrant it.  But Jesus knows the cry of your heart.  He’s not threatened by honest perplexity.  Question with an open heart.  But, keep trusting from your own experience with Him.  

The journey of faith is a walk of grit and glory.  Miracles and heartbreak.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You’ll win, because In Christ you’re one with the Winner.

Thomas was much more than a doubter.  That’s become an unfortunate mark of shame.  You, too…I’ll just betcha…are much more than a doubter, God’s man/woman of faith and power.

Gary

 

 

Got Fear?

no-fear-car-graphic-3094-p

Got fear?  Think that means you’re faith is inferior?  Guess what?  Having real faith is not the same as absence of fear.  In fact, being fearless could be a sign of a mental/emotional disorder.

Some people think, “The purer the faith, the less the fear.”  Having no fear is what some people think is proof that they’re growing in faith.  But…it just ain’t so Joe.

Psalm 56:3 says, “What time I am afraid, I will put my trust in thee.”

Like water is wet and sugar is sweet, in the normal human experience, fear is a part of the faith journey.  In a sense, be okay with it.  Don’t let fear freak you out.  Stop denying it’s presence with the mantra, “I’m not afraid…I’m not afraid…I’m not afraid.”  That’s not faith.  What that is is a distorted application of what some call, “the confession of faith.”  Repeating the words, “I’m not afraid,” is a false confession.  It’s a lie, if – in fact – you’re feeling fear.

To tell you the truth, too many faith folks have injected their spiritual veins with superstition…and called it faith. 

Faith is not denying anything that’s really there or happening.  Faith is putting one’s trust in God’s Word.  In the face of fear, making your “final answer” what God says to expect from Him.  That’s the confession of faith.

Romans 4:17, “Calling those things that be not as though they are”  That’s what it Paul told the Romans about faith.  Notice it does not say, “Calling those things that are as though they are not.”

What’s the bottom line here?  I’m intentionally putting my trust in God with my mouth.  I’m also experiencing fear tremors, at times.  Some more than others.  But, I also know that’s part of the journey and doesn’t indicate I have a lack of faith.  I want you to realize the same thing.

“What time I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” 

Gary

 

 

 

 

 

Failure Is Not The Enemy

failure-or-successWhen most of us think of failure, we think of the signs you see here.  Failure is going one direction and success is going the other.

However, I’d like to submit to you that failure and success both travel in the the same direction.  Understanding that contradictory truth will remove a lot of stress and self condemnation from our lives, and help the journey become…uh…more…successful :)

Nobody with a birth certificate looks forward to “finding ways that don’t work.”  It feels yukky!  Not to mention embarrassing. But, that’s one of the points, failure is typically nothing more or less than discovering areas that don’t work the way we’d like them to. 

Several years ago, I was encouraged by a friend to learn to water ski.  To make a long story short, I quit trying after the first few attempts failed.  If I’d continued to try, the overwhelming odds are that I would have succeeded.  I likely would not have become an expert in the sport;  But, also likely, I would have mastered the process enough to receive some enjoyment.  Who knows?  Yep, you’re right.  We’ll never know…because I didn’t keep going.  I quit on myself.  There are those rare birds that “pop up” on their first try.  However, that is really, really rare.  Most that succeed “fail” several times first.

So, it bears repeating.  Failure is not the enemy.  Failure is a key ingredient in success.  If you’re from this planet, you’ll never get to success without swallowing healthy doses of failure.  They both are traveling, by necessity, the same direction in our lives.

Failure helps us discover some very good things:

  1. Success at anything is, likely, not as easy as it looks.  So stop with the “you’re so stupid” comments to yourself.
  2. Failure can help strengthen our resolve to push forward.
  3. Failure is not the end.  Nope, its’ not…unless it helped you to realize something you didn’t really want to pursue, anyway.  So, devote the time of “pressing on” to the things that matter to you.
  4. Success is a winding path not a straight line.
  5. Success is not the end, either.  Once you succeed, what?  You’re going to stop growing?  Nope.  It’s time to find more failures that are helping you on your upward path known as “Your Life.”
  6. Failure helps success to taste sweeter.
  7. You add your own wit and wisdom to the definition here.

Do you want to succeed?  Then, you must let failure be a friend and use it to your advantage.

Please register your comments. Come on, please.  You don’t want me to feel like a blogging failure do you … hahaha :)   Hey, I’ve been hearing where many of you are from.  Please add your state, or country in the comments.  I truly appreciate it :)

Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eyes That Look In, See Out

angel-eyes

What do you look for in others?  Confidence?  Wisdom? Promise?  Potential?  Here’s something that may surprise you…

The same eyes that look in, see out.  The question, “What am I doing wrong?” is something we are tempted to ask when things are not going as hoped.  It’s natural.  It seems logical.  And, if course corrections are needed, then those adjustments need to me made.

However, I rely upon the Holy Spirit to correct me as needed.  His words are true.  They don’t leave the smear of shame or guilt.  His words don’t sap me of hope.  They may not always “feel good” but there is wisdom that comes with His counsel or correction that anticipates a good end when followed.

The microscope of self examination also plays to the “sin consciousness card.”  The devil (and the mind of the flesh) enjoy knocking us down with the awareness of weakness.  Not only are we made aware we are “still sinners,” the imps of accusation  love to “pile on” like a football team after a tackle.  Being your own critic is a no win situation that’s void of any real wisdom.

Left unchecked we then find ourselves hip deep in another kind of misery.  Seeing what is wrong in the people around us.  Somehow we think we have super powers of devil discernment, when actually we are letting the devil lead us around by the nose.  We easily see how others are missing it. We are never satisfied with any group, church, or organization. 

So, maybe repentance from self-criticism is in order.  Perhaps assuming the best about yourself would work wonders in your state of mind.

I can hear it now.  You say, “I just want to be pure and right with God.”  Sounds good.  Sounds logical.  Sounds spiritual.  Problem is…that’s putting off into the future that which is already the case in the present.  Because of Jesus’ Great Echo, “It Is Finished!” you are as right and pure with God as you will ever be. 

Humble yourself and accept that fact!  Come off your purity high horse and embrace the gift you would never be able to afford.  Also accept the fact that we are lousy self critics.

Does this help?  I’d love to hear from you.  The “comment” space is made just for you.

Gary

The L Word

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“An unforgettable quote from Les Misérables is, “Life’s great happiness is to be convinced we are loved.”  – Jim Palmer

Jim goes on to say, “The word “love” comes up incessantly in life and I sometimes wonder what it is exactly that we want when we express the longing to be loved. It seems to me that being “convinced we are loved” would mean that we experience ourselves as being accepted, worthy, wanted, desirable, beautiful, powerful, and valuable. Even if love is the essence of our identity, which I believe it is, our experience of love happens primarily in connection and relationship with others. The significance of Jesus for others was that he made God’s love believable and experience-able. Jesus did not send people off to a mountaintop to meditate on God’s love, or send them to church to study God’s love, or distribute theological pamphlets, explaining God’s love. Jesus gave expression to love… Jesus was love… his life was being love.”

He also made this observation that echos my own opinion…

“I’d like to re-write Victor Hugo’s Les Mis quote this way, “Life’s great purpose is to convince others they are loved.”

I’ve heard others sincerely say that they believe we must first know God’s love before we can give it away.  That sounds scriptural doesn’t it?  After all, 1st John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us…”

That is, of course a fact.  The only reason we can give away the God kind of love is because He made it possible by initiating the process.  But maybe we could also think of it this way…

Because Jesus paid our rightful price we now possess His supernatural love that resides within us.  Maybe we haven’t expressed it because we don’t know we already have the capacity, through Him within, to do so.

In our Western Culture we are highly educated in the “me first” way of thinking.  So, those who probably should know better, teach it as God’s way.  Actually, there’s some…sorta…truth to that…maybe…a little bit.  But, at best, it’s waaaay incomplete in understanding how God makes it work.

One of the many “voices of God in nature” gives us this principle:  The Law of The Seed.  We also find an abundance of examples in the teachings of the scriptures.

Actually, one of the Bible references we often attach to financial giving is Luke 6:38, “Give and it shall be given unto you…”  However…

that verse (in context) is not about finances at all.  It’s about the giving of love, and mercy.

So, if you want to “feel the love” that comes from God, it’s about the seed sewn.  As I quoted Jim Palmer at the beginning of this article,  “I’d like to re-write Victor Hugo’s Les Mis quote this way, “Life’s great purpose is to convince others they are loved.”

It’s your turn.  Please let us hear from you in the comments.

Gary