Tag Archives: Jesus

Super Mario and the Will of God

3 Jan

There is a curious thing that happens amongst the people of God and I feel the need to speak to it, not as an expert but as one who has fully experienced the tension. The thing to which I am speaking is the irrational fear associated with the will of God. As a pastor, I hear questions all the time like this: How do you know the will of God? How do I know I am making the right decision? What if I’m wrong? What if I miss God? Where does God want me to be?

We are all predisposed to thinking we live in a linear world. We see God’s will like a train that leaves at 11am sharp–and you better be there to get on. Once on, there are multiple stops along the way that will again give you the possibility of missing the train’s departure. So people stay in the comfortable confines of the cabin and never leave the train. They stay because they think that if they remain motionless there will be no possible way to miss the train.

The problem with that line of thinking is that God’s will becomes reduced to you being static. There is no vibrancy. Your life has the potential outcome of an old school Super Mario game. You are side scrolling through a 2-dimensional world and there are lots of things that can kill you and various pits to fall in. There is so much fear and apprehension with doing anything of meaning. Because anything meaningful you’ll ever do will come with great risk. It’s seemingly safer to do nothing. I believe this paradigm causes people who desperately want to live inside the will of God to miss it altogether.

Jesus said, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and everything else will be added. Have we forgotten that he regards us as sons and not slaves? Have we forgotten that just as any parent loves to lavish good gifts on their children so too God loves to give good things to His children? Chad is one of our staff members at Center City. A couple weeks ago he put together a bike for his 4 year old daughter. You have never seen a grown man more pumped over a tiny pink bicycle. He couldn’t wait to give it to Allie. But we don’t believe God is like that. Somewhere burrowed in our subconscious we believe God is the headmaster at our boarding school. I guess it’s easier to believe in the cosmic-cop-god that hits you with his club every time you step out of line. The problem is, that’s not God. He gives us the freedom of choice. Notice in the story of the prodigal son, the father doesn’t chain his son to the porch. He freely gives him his inheritance, though desperately sad at his choice to leave the safety of the father’s home. We too have a choice. As long as we are seeking the kingdom and His righteousness first, we have freedom. “Where the Spirit of The Lord is there is liberty.”

So seek The Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. And seek the kingdom and His righteousness. Everything after that is up to you. What is a dream God has put in your heart? Go for it. What are you waiting on? Jesus has given you the freedom to choose. You are blessed with option A or option B. Sure, there are times when the still small voice of God will say, “No.” Obey that. Paul says in many of his letters that the Spirit wouldn’t let him go to a certain place. But he also expresses many times his desire to travel certain places and his hope for the circumstances to work out for. That’s his choice. I believe to my core that God wants you to feel the freedom of His Spirit. There is no fear in Love. Go and experience the joy of living the free life found in Jesus.

Walmart, C.S. Lewis, and John Legend

7 Dec

Last night I almost caused a scene at Walmart. You see, somewhere inside this 6’4 lumbering pastor is still a 6 year old boy that really wants his way. I wanted to get my wife Chelsi a new iPhone and they had a policy that prohibited me from doing so. I talked to the clerk, the assistant manager, and the store manager. I explained to them the nature of policy making and that it is ultimately for the customer’s benefit. I explained that I, the customer, was being wronged due to a policy that did not account for every scenario. I calmly delivered an impassioned plea to “make this right.” The store manager let me finish and blankly repeated the store policy back at me and walked away with calloused nonchalance. I was infuriated. I felt as if it was a personal affront. I devised a plan. This was injustice and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I would find the district manager’s number and have the store manager fired. I would write a scathing email. I would write my congressman. I would gather the 20’s and 30’s of America and march on Capital Hill. “Justice will be served,” I thought.

As I was walking away though, C.S. Lewis whispered something to me. In his work “The Weight of Glory” he writes, “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.” That sentence was brought to my mind and it hit me like a ton of bricks. See, I believe theologically that every person ever born is an image-bearer of God. I believe that everyone is a soul that is infinitely loved by the Creator-God. But sometimes I live like people are “mere mortals.” I live like the world around me is built to serve my needs. I act as though I am of higher importance than others. Jeff the clerk, Dominic the assistant manager, and April the store manager, they are all immortal. They all are the beloved of God and He delights in them. They all have a story. But in that moment last night, all I saw was my need to get a phone and they were there to serve my purpose. So in my childish rage, I neglected to see the human beings God sees.

Despite what John Legend tells you, we’re not just ordinary people. C.S. Lewis remarks that, “It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…”

What would life look like if we saw people–all people–as God sees them? Every person–you, your family member, your neighbor, that lady with an annoying laugh at work, the mailman, and even a Walmart employee–is an immortal soul with divine thumbprint of God.

16 Pairs of Underwear

18 Sep

I was 6 years old and I had disobeyed. I had done something that deserved punishing. This is no surprise. I have a knack for disrupting harmony and have been honing my skill from a very young age. At age 3, when told to not throw a frisbee in the house, I flung it full force and hit my dad between the eyes. By age 6 I was a maniac. The crime escapes my memory for this story, but the punishment surely does not…

The disobedient act has been committed and I receive the dreaded words from my dad. “Go to your room and get ready to get spanked.” I’m not sure how most kids take these words but I leap into action. I run full speed to my room, fling open the top drawer nearly knocking myself unconscious (a state that would be welcomed with open arms), and pull out every pair of underwear I own. I take off my jeans as fast as humanly possible. Then I systematically put on each pair of those underwear. Spiderman on. Michael Jordan on. Plain white on. Sixteen pairs later, jeans back on, I am ready for my spanking. I will not feel the sting of the hand, belt, paddle, or whatever the weapon of choice is today. No sir. I am ready.

My father walks into the room–his 6 foot 3 inch frame is not going to be for wrestling or tickling or throwing baseball in this moment. No, today he is the cruel judge. His looped black belt is drooping at his side forming a crooked smile. Judgement time. I am ready. Our eyes meet. I am distraught but hopeful that my preparation will pay off. His voice pierces the silence. “Son, pull your pants down and lean over the bed.” I freeze. My 6 year old brain has not accounted for this. My evil scheme will surely be seen now. There is no way to hide 16 pairs of underwear. So down they go around my ankles. I close my eyes as tight as possible. I don’t want to see his reaction. I wait an eternity. Nothing. Then the sound of labored breathing behind me. My dad has seen my trick. Is he getting ready to deliver the blow of his life? More heavy breaths coming from his nostrils. My bare butt exposed, I brace myself. He finally breathes through his mouth and breaks the labored cadence. He is laughing. Hard. But he doesn’t want me to hear. He tries with maximum effort to hold it in but it is completely futile. He belly laughs–the kind of laugh that comes from your soul–at the sight of his son with 16 pairs of underwear around his little ankles. One half-hearted swing of the belt later and it’s over. He hugs me in the way only a dad can. A full, life-enveloping hug. And he laughs. And I laugh.

The writer of Hebrews gives us this encouragement: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves and punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

We all have a propensity for harmony disruption. We do dumb stuff. A lot. And God wants to gently correct us and show us what it means to be His sons and daughters. He wants us to be fully human in the way He intends it. But we have an imperfect view of God. We believe him to be a malevolent dictator or a careful rule-keeper. We forget that God is a loving father that seeks relationship with us. That relationship must include discipline. But just like the 6-year-old version of me, we run. We try to evade God’s hand of discipline. So we wrap our butts in every possible article of little luxuries or distractions we can find. But the father sees and (it’s a leap but just go with me) he laughs. He strips us until we are naked and away from any measure of protection we can devise in our own childish minds and He lovingly corrects us and wraps us up in his arms in a way that we can not put into words. He comforts us at the deepest and most intimate level. That is relationship.

Stop running. Stop trying to protect yourself from what you desperately need. In an attempt to protect yourself from the hand of discipline, you shield yourself from to the hand that loves, heals, and mends that which is broken. Let the Father love you.

Effective Prayer

28 Aug

This is a rough sketch of a talk I gave to Center City on Sunday. I believe it’s a great way to end our series on prayer.

This past month we have been discussing the topic of prayer. Our pastor has been challenging us to pray bold prayers and circle them. We have talked about persistence in prayer and the idea of pushing through until we get an answer. I think it needs to be said, though, that we may have a very limited definition of prayer. We have been told or made to believe that prayer is something that starts with “Dear God” and ends with “Amen.” With this definition in mind, how do take Paul’s charge to the Thessalonians to pray continuously? Does that mean you need to quit your job? Is the effectiveness of your prayer based on the amount of time you are engaged in “Dear God, Amen” prayers? Not at all. Prayer is a posture of the heart. Prayer is your life. We try to drag law into this. We try to measure our prayer life on an achievement scale–as if God gives a quarterly performance review. “Your prayer hours are really down this quarter. You better bring those up in Q4” This is not the case. We do not engage in prayer because God demands it. Rather, we pray because God desires communion and relationship with his children. Our hearts long to be intimate and close with the Father. But when we make it about achievement it becomes a drudgery and we colossally miss the point. God wants to be with you. Prayer absolutely includes “Dear God, Amen” type moments in the day and it will certainly include extended times of that kind of prayer. But we can’t be legalistic with ourselves or others–however appealing it may be. It would help up to remember that we are in a relationship. When Chelsi and I sit in silence, is our relationship less? Does she end the night with a pie chart of our time together? ” We really need to bring up our talking hours and increase the amount of handholding.” Of course there would be an issue if we never spoke but that’s not an issue. We are in relationship. I am deeply aware of her love for me, so I love to converse with her. So what does a life of prayer look like?

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus helps us out.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

I want to point out a few things from the passage that stick out.
1) Don’t pray to be heard or seen. God isn’t impressed by how spiritual you sound and if you’re doing it for that reason, you’ve already received your reward. God isn’t impressed by the quality of your prayers.
2) When Jesus says go into your room and close the door and pray in secret, this is a puzzling remark. Almost all of Jesus’ hearers lived in a 1 room house. There was very little privacy. Many commentators believe Jesus was talking about a heart posture. “Close the door to the noise of the world and pray to God who is unseen.”
3) The quantity of your words has nothing to do with the effectiveness of your prayers. Don’t babble on like the pagans. The Father knows what we need before we articulate a single word. The prayer Jesus gives us is a 15 second prayer. Feel the freedom to interact with God from a place of love not duty. The thing God blesses in prayer is purity.

So prayer is not simply our “Dear God’s” and “Amen’s.” It is so much more. Our worship is prayer. Our silent listening is prayer. Richard Foster says our desire to spend more time with the Father is in and of itself prayer. Our work is our prayer that we offer to God. The entirety of our life is prayer. Kierkegaard says purity of heart is to will one thing. With that in mind, purity in prayer is to will one thing–namely, communion with the Father.

Belligerent Arguments concerning Metaphor

23 Aug

My college roommate and lifelong friend Justin McCain just moved to Charlotte to lead worship at Center City. We still fight like 9 year old children. At some point in each argument, we both belligerent and start tossing the equivalent of “my dad can beat up your dad” type jabs at each other. Our latest bout was on the topic of language and metaphor (with my level-headed wife moderating and acting as the voice of reason and sensibility). My argument was that metaphor is the backbone of language. A word only makes sense in relation to other words. You can’t define a word without using other words. We run into the limitations of language all the time. We try to verbalize feelings of love or suffering and our words fail us. Sure, we can use scientific precision with our words. We can attempt to take out all fluff–bare bones communication. It won’t work for long. Soon you’ll realize your need for metaphor. I dare you to stand at the base of a giant mountain and attempt to explain it without the help of metaphor. Try explaining falling in love without it. Attempt describing the birth of your first child without eliciting some other image or comparison.

If our words fail us with what we naturally experience on earth as humans, how much more so in relation to the Divine–the God who spoke the universe into being with his words. The God who is wholly ‘other’ yet intimately present. The God who is beyond time and space. Even that preposition (beyond) lacks the punch needed. In, over, above, through, within. All these were used by the Biblical writers. We hear statements regularly about God that are not literally true but are used to make an analogy to his nature. This is nothing new. When Biblical writers found themselves at the base of the mountain called God they created beautiful imagery to explain what they saw, felt, heard, and experienced. Take, for instance, a phrase we’ve talked about at Center City during our prayer series, “God bends down to listen.” This statement is called an anthropomorphism in Theology. The term is used for when we attribute human characteristics to a fully ‘other’ God. God doesn’t literally bend down to listen–that would assume he had a spinal column and couldn’t hear well. This gives us a picture of the Divine Father bending over to hear his children speak. It is a beautiful image. The use of this metaphor isn’t wrong, it is simply incomplete.

Any metaphor is by nature limited. You can only hang on to a metaphor for so long before you realize its limitations and move to another. The understanding of God will not fit into one metaphor. In fact, it won’t fit into a million. Our only chance at nearing closer to understanding is to elicit the use of many metaphors. A great example of this can be found in the Psalms. In Psalm 23 David uses the imagery of the Lord as shepherd. David also refers to God as a rock and a fortress. Isaiah calls God a potter. Metaphors aid us in explaining the Inexplicable.

So, is God father, lover, friend, bridegroom, rock, fortress, potter, king, cornerstone, lion, or shepherd? Yes.

Devour scripture this week and find a new metaphor for God that you’ve never pondered. Get a fresh image of God and worship Him for it.

In the end, Justin decided that he was merely arguing about the definition of metaphor (which I believe proves my point even more because I was arguing the limitation of language).

I win.

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