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I’ve got my reasons

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We’ve started a new sermon and small group series at C3 called “Not a Fan”. Here’s a VERY brief introduction:

It’s all about being a committed follower of Jesus Christ rather than just an enthusiastic admirer. Jesus has millions of fans. Far fewer followers. I’d love to tell you I’m a follower, but I can’t honestly say that, because there are plenty of things I put before God. In Sunday’s sermon, Jeff quoted a line from a song by Nickel Creek called Reasons Why: “Others have excuses, but I have my reasons why.”

That really hit home for me. It’s easy to look at someone else and judge what we think is separating them from truly following Jesus: pride, past hurts, addiction, the Church. Heck, even religion often separates us from Him.

But with other folks, those are all just excuses, aren’t they?

It’s different for me.



Where am I today, I wish that I knew
‘Cause looking around there’s no sign of you
I don’t remember one jump or one leap
Just quiet steps away from your lead

I’m holding my heart out but clutching it too
Feeling this sort of a love that we once knew
I’m calling this home when it’s not even close
Playing the role with nerves left exposed

Standing on a darkened stage
Stumbling through the lines
Others have excuses
But I have my reasons why

We get distracted by the dreams of our own
But nobody’s happy while feeling alone
And knowing how hard it hurts when we fall
We lean another ladder against the wrong wall

And climb high to the highest rung
To shake fists at the sky
While others have excuses
I have my reasons why

With so much deception
It’s hard not to wander away
It’s hard not to wander away
It’s hard not to wander away

It’s easy to allow ourselves to believe we cling to reasons rather than excuses. In my case, I often think my biggest fear is that I ever truly give everything over to God, there are certain things that I’ll never get back. In the end, I need to get to a place where I ask God to give me what I need. Not the things I want.

How about you?

Reasons or excuses?

An economy of words

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In my series of posts The proper care and feeding of elephants, I write about conversations which probably should take place but never do that can do some serious damage to relationships over time. Words are powerful, both the expressed and the implied.

Last Sunday at my church, our pastor Jeff challenged us to begin reading a chapter of the book of John a day. As with most Bible reading plans I’ve done, I started off strong and committed to my daily reading only to lose steam by the end of the week. Fortunately, the plan actually calls for reading five chapters in seven days, so as of this morning I’m caught up. Along with my typical array of excuses as to why I fell behind in my bible reading plan, I think I actually have a legitimate excuse.

I got stuck in the first chapter.

Shortly after I was baptized, it was suggested I begin reading the Bible beginning in the book of John. As is the case with most books in the Bible, every time I read John I come away with new insight, and every time this happens, I think to myself, how could I have missed something so incredibly obvious all this time? I suppose the short answer is that my heart and my mind were not open to a particular truth until that time.

Many Christians can recite the first few lines of John:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Which is not to say any of these words should become rote. There’s a lot to digest in those first five verses. In subsequent verses, John makes some pretty audacious claims about who Jesus is and who he (John) is not. In verse 29, John sees Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” It is not until verse 38 that we see the words of Jesus. Two of John’s disciples see Jesus and begin following him. Jesus turns around, sees them following him and what does he say?

Does he say, “I am the Lamb of God” or “I am God walking among you, fully God yet fully human?”, or “I am the only true hope of salvation and the only pathway to God?”


The first recorded words of Jesus in the book of John are:

“What do you want?”

And since we know he’s Jesus, we can infer that he knows what they want. But he knows his days are numbered. Everything he says, every action he takes must mean something; must be a teachable moment. So what is Jesus really saying to them? I think he’s saying:

Tell me what you want.

Oftentimes the direct approach is best, especially when motivated by love.

Anything you need to say to someone? Maybe today’s the day.

The Good Samaritan revisited

Last Sunday I mentioned that Jeff preached a sermon on the Good Samaritan and that with his permission, I would write a post about it based on his sermon notes. This is that post. (The text in block quotes is taken directly from Jeff’s sermon last Sunday.)

Jeff began the sermon by showing this picture I had sent him a few days earlier:

“Isn’t it kind of amazing that a song that was made popular in the 1940’s would still be so well known that it could be the source of a joke for a t-shirt company in 2011? It seems like most of us can remember a time when “You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out…” I guess it’s all that repetition; there’s nothing new, so we don’t have too much trouble going through the motions.

I think the same thing happens with certain Bible stories. We hear them, and we’re sure we know what their all about, so we smile and go through the motions. Part of the trouble may be that so many of these stories have a good moral on the surface, and we get so used to hearing the moral, that we don’t look to see if something more is there. The story we’re looking at today has great potential for this.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

At the beginning of this parable, a teacher of the law, a man who has devoted his life to learning and observing Jewish law, asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I think it’s safe to assume that this guy wasn’t asking Jesus this question because he didn’t know. He was asking Jesus this question to test him. To see if Jesus’s answer lined up with what he thought he already understood.

In response to this question, Jesus asks him a question: “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

To which the lawyer responds: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Think about that last line: “Do this and you will live”. By making this statement to the teacher of the law, Jesus is essentially telling him that he’s not currently loving God and loving his neighbor. He’s telling him he may know the the greatest commandment, but he’s not keeping it. As I read this passage, I’m thinking that this guy is pretty put out with Jesus. Who does this guy think he is telling me I’m not living right?

Jeff continues:

“Now the expert in the law is troubled. He wants to justify himself—literally, he wants to be declared righteous by his actions. So, he asks Jesus to clarify the parameters of measurement. “Define what you mean by ‘neighbor,’ and I’ll confirm that I’ve shown love to them, thus meeting your qualifications.”

Jesus could have given the lawyer a short answer. But every good teacher knows that it’s far better to guide someone to discover the answer for themselves—it just “sticks” in a much more powerful way. And Jesus is the Master teacher…”

Jesus begins to tell the story of the Good Samaritan:

“One particular stretch was ideal for an ambush, and was actually referred to as the “Way of Blood,” because of the number of people who were robbed and killed there. Having a character fall victim to robbers was really a pretty realistic scenario.

So as the man lies bleeding and half dead, a priest comes along, and at some point after him, a Levite does too. Again, this was a realistic scenario. They were both travelling the same way as the man who got robbed, which meant they were likely on their way home from working at the temple, which was in Jerusalem. Jericho was sort of a “bedroom community” of Jerusalem and many of the priests and Levites lived there.

For some reason, neither of these men stopped to help the victim. It’s easy for us to call these guys names and write them off as callous, uncaring, pompous hypocrites. But before we do, let me ask you: have you ever passed by an opportunity to show compassion to someone else?

Not just that person on I-10 with a flat. Maybe a co-worker who you know has had a horrible day (or week or month). You can tell they really need someone, but you’re just so tired. Or you’ve got to get to that meeting. Or you just have to get home. Remember: this trip was about 17 miles, and probably took around 5+ hours to walk.

How about at home? You know that your husband, or wife, or kiddo really wants to talk, or play that game with you, or go do that thing with you that they’ve been telling you about for days or weeks. But you just got home. Or you really wanted to go work out tonight. Or you’re wiped and you just want a little down time.

I can hear the priest and the Levite: “What if he’s already dead? And look at that blood! Either way, I touch him and I’m ritualistically unclean, which means I might not be able to fulfill my next obligation at the temple. I can’t risk that- I have an obligation!” Or, “I’ve got so far to go, and my family is waiting for me. They are my priority- Honestly, I don’t even know this guy! What if this is a trap? Whether he’s hurt or not, if I stop I could get jumped and end up just like him…

I mean, maybe these guys aren’t rotten. Maybe they’re just… human.”

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At this point in the story, along comes a Samaritan man. By the time of this parable, the Jews considered the Samaritan nation completely impure and lower than dogs. And yet, Jesus chooses a Samaritan to be the hero of the story.

But the actions of the Samaritan in this story can teach us three important lessons about extending grace:

I. First, the Samaritan was PROACTIVE.

As soon as he saw the victimized man, the Samaritan felt pity and went to him. He engaged the man where he was, without hesitation.

II. Second, the Samaritan got MESSY.

He jumped right into the ugliness of the man’s situation. People didn’t carry around first aid kits, so I imagine that he had to tear up some of his own clothing for bandages. As he began to bandage the man’s wounds, the wine and the oil that was poured out would have mixed with the dirt and the blood and it would have been messy.

III. Finally, the Samaritan GAVE of HIMSELF.

He placed the man on his donkey and walked the rest of the 17 mile journey. He took the man to an inn, and cared for
him that night. As he prepared to leave the next day, he didn’t surrender his involvement. Instead, he gave the innkeeper two silver coins—two Denari—which would have covered the victims care for about three weeks. And he assured him that if there were more costs involved in the man’s recovery, he would pay for them upon his return.

After telling the parable, Jesus finishes the discussion with the lawyer:

Luke 10:36-37
36″Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” 
      Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I can just hear the lawyer as he grits his teeth and answers the question. He can’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan!” So he tells Jesus that the neighbor was “the one who had mercy on him.”

So what can we learn from this parable today?

I think a lot of people would say that this story teaches us how to love our neighbor, right? Well, the Samaritan is certainly an amazing example of that very thing. But we’ll miss the big point unless we remember one very important thing: The lawyer’s original question.

He asked Jesus, “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer wanted Jesus to tell him exactly who his neighbor was because he was trying to be made righteous by his own actions. In response, Jesus tells him that essentially, his “neighbor” is EVERYONE.

Don’t move on too quickly from this idea, because it’s not as clear and tidy as we sometimes want to make it. Think of actually responding to EVERYONE the way the Samaritan responded to the victim.

You must be proactive with every single person in your life! Everyone you meet must be a grade A, number 1, top priority for you.

You must jump into the mess of EVERYONE you know. Bandaging their wounds, addressing their hurts. You must be committed to their complete and total healing.

Finally, you must give of yourself sacrificially to EVERYBODY. Physically, emotionally financially, you give until it hurts. To every single person you come in contact with.

You can almost hear the lawyer walking away saying, “That’s impossible!”

And I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Yes it is.”

“For humanity…”

Ephesians 2:1-10
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now THAT’S what it’s all about.

Final thoughts:

Looking at this parable with a new perspective completely blew me away. How many times have you heard or read this story? The obvious lesson is to love your neighbor, to give sacrificially, etc.

But there is a deeper message that I took away from this sermon, and it is this:

I’m not the teacher of the law in this story.
I’m certainly not Jesus
I’m not the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan
and I’m guessing you’re not any of them either…

Who am I?

I’m the man left for dead on the Road to Jericho…

and time after time in my life…

Jesus is The Good Samaritan.

Love. Live. Serve.

Meeting God in the tuffshed (repost)

(This post was orginally run in June, 2008. Funny how I still struggle with some of the same stuff I did back then. Guess I’m pretty thick-headed.)

 Awhile back, my husband bought a tuffshed to store our lawn equipment. But before we’re able to put anything in it, it needs to be painted. I started with the basecoat, but I’ve been putting off the completion of the job. The main reason is that it’s so stinkin’ hot outside. But the other reason is that I knew I would be doing it by myself. Get my husband within 10 feet of a can of paint and he breaks into a cold sweat. There’s an unwritten rule in our home: painting anythingis my department. I’m usually fine with this. When I’m inside, my kids are here to keep me company, or at the very least, I can turn on the radio. In the tuffshed, I stand alone.

The basecoat is finished. I completed it yesterday. And yes, I spend most of the day without any human company. But sometimes, forced seclusion is the only way I get some really good face time with God. Such was the case yesterday. As I was painting, my mind began to wander. For some inexplicable reason, I started to think about the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I remember watching the television in horror as the drama in New Orleans played out, thinking to myself, “How could this happen? Why are these people stranded and dying in the streets of New Orleans?, where is the government?” This post is not about whose to blame. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. This is about the thousands of refugees who came pouring into Houston in the days and weeks to follow, and the ones I came face to face with right here in my little town just west of Houston.

Like most churches in the area, mine held a meeting to discuss how we could help. Among other things, we set up a clothing and basic toiletries donation center in our church. We also signed up to feed the Katrina survivors who were staying at another local church. A group of volunteers from our church went over once a week and cooked and served lunch for approximately 100 people. It made me feel good that I was able to help out. I came in with such a great attitude, ready to bless the socks off those poor people. Many of the survivors were truly grateful, and again, that made me feel good. But others were not as forthcoming with the thanks yous. They were downright nasty. They complained about what type of food we served and how much they were given. Many just glared at me and others from our church. I’d like to say I didn’t take it personally, but I would be lying. I got pretty indignant about the whole process: “Who do they think they are? Don’t they know we’re trying to help them? They should be grateful they got out of New Orleans alive and have a roof over their heads!” I don’t regret what we did, and I’d do again in a heartbeat. But after my conversation with God yesterday, I think if there’s a next time, my attitude will be different.

While I was painting in the tuffshed, God said to me, “It’s not about you.” Now, I realize that that’s Rick Warren’s line – but hey, He is God after all, so I guess they’re all His lines. I’m pretty hard on Christians who sport the Jesus fish on their car, never miss a Sunday in church, let everyone know that they’re going to heaven, but don’t strive to live a life abiding in Jesus. And then I realized that’s exactly what I am. The fact that I expected some gratitude from those people exposed my heart to me for the first time since it happened. My motives were completely wrong. I wasn’t trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus, I was expecting payment in the form of gratefulness. So, I’m laying this at the foot of the cross, asking God to forgive me for selfish motives and seeking His help to become a true follower of Jesus, and I am convicted by these words:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself and became obedient to death —

even death on the cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Do everything without complaining or arguing,

so that you may become blameless and pure,

children of God without fault

in a crooked and depraved generation,

in which you shine like stars in the universe


Philippians 2:14-15

I want to be shiny…

There is a Reason

I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There isn’t any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all

I’ve trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I’m living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all

In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see
I do believe but help my unbelief
I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There is a reason for it all

A bucket full (by Shark Bait)

Ah, Sharkbait! He joined the Fellowship of the Traveling Smartypants because of a challenge from me, and I’m so glad that he did. He is a deep thinker for such a small fish, and he’s a lawyer that would be perfectly happy to be at the bottom of the ocean.

Here’s a bit of his bio:
What am I? How does one answer that question? I write, but am I a writer? I study, but am I a student? I teach, but am I a teacher? I am a lay minister, public speaking trainer, cell group leader, and much more. And in my spare time I am a lawyer to fund all my other activities. But above all, I want to be Faithful In Serving HIM. So all I reveal about myself is that I want to be a FISH.

I love the water. I mean really love it. From a young age I was always in the water and swimming around. I suppose it made choosing a fish as an avatar a bit inevitable. Which is rather ironic, because I am really not a very good swimmer. Not that I’m in imminent danger of going under for the third time in my bath tub you understand, but I have a deal with the sea. I don’t swim out into it alone, and it doesn’t try to drown me.

But I digress.

I really love water, and especially the sea. I love going to the beach, and growing up I had lots of toys for building sandcastles and such like. But my favourite was the simple plastic bucket; because once you had made your sand castle you had to collect the water from the sea to fill the moat. You did have a moat on your sandcastle didn’t you? Of course you did. So I used to collect buckets of water from the sea, and play with them.

You can tell a lot about the sea from just that one bucket. You can see that the water is wet, and tastes salty. You know what it smells like, and if you put your hand in, you know it burns any open cuts. If you took the water home and looked under a microscope, you would be able to see some of the organisms that live in the sea, and even analyse the water for chemical content.

You can tell a lot about the sea from that single bucket of water.

But it won’t tell you how unbelievable HUGE the sea is, or how deep. The mind-numbing depths or the amazing and scary animals that exist there. The strength of a single wave, or the distance a single current can carry a leaf.

In short, the bucket can show you what the sea is like, but it will be only a glimpse of the full potential. But boy does it make you want to go out there and swim in that ocean.

For us, God is like that infinite ocean. Wild, and unknowable. Yet we have Jesus, sort of like a bucket of God. A tiny glimpse of who God is, and what he is capable of, but never the whole story, just as much as we can comprehend. We see God in what we know of Jesus, but we also realise from him, just how little we actually know.

But Jesus was also just a plastic bucket, filled with God. He was fully God, but he was also fully human. What made him unique was not the plastic bucket, but the water it contained. In our effort to understand what it meant for him to be fully God, we need to learn how we can be fully human. How we can take on the nature of Christ, who was able to be the perfect plastic bucket, not because his plastic was better than ours, but because of how he was filled with the perfect water. We need to be Jesus in the world, showing people God within us. We need to be the perfect plastic bucket that Jesus was teaching us to be, not so that we can be filled, but by being filled.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go visit the sea again, and look for a re-fill. See you on the distant shore.

For more from Sharkbait, visit him at Shark Bait’s Reef

Dear Punk,

Dear Punk kid who stole my son’s Yu-Gi-Oh Cards,

You and I both know what you did. You told me everything I needed to know when you avoided eye contact with me. My son is a very trusting kid. Because you guys were hanging out and having fun at the comic store, he naively assumed that he could leave his deck on the table while he left for a few minutes. The emptying of the pockets and the backpack was fairly impressive, but you and I know that you stashed it where it would not be found. I know you think my son is some rich kid from the suburbs, but as I type this, he is doing extra chores to pay for the eight dollar card that he had in his possession a total of 10 minutes.

When you took that card from him, you took away something else. You see, my son (much like his mom) is a bit of a square peg that never totally fits into the round holes carved out at school. When he goes to those tournaments, he is completely free to be himself and relax with other kids who are also square pegs. He will still enjoy going to these tournaments, but now that’s one more place he will have to have his guard up. You taught him a valuable lesson that only experience can teach, but still…

I want you to know something else. We went out to dinner tonight. My husband usually says the prayer for the family, but tonight my son asked if he could pray. Guess who he prayed for? That’s right…he prayed for you — that God would forgive you as he has forgiven you. Do you know what I’m going to pray for tonight? I’m going to pray that every time you steal another kid’s cards, you get caught. I want you to get caught stealing in a small way so that you stop while you’re ahead. It’s a much bigger deal when you move on to bigger things like old ladies’ purses and cars. The authorities frown on those things and you might even wind up spending some time in jail, and how suck would that be?

Even though my son is convinced that you took his card, he will still be your friend and he will continue to pray for you. He really gets the “love the sinner but not the sin” concept. But don’t be surprised if he wants to talk to you about Jesus. You might want to listen.


DISCLAIMER: The following thoughts are from my not seminary trained mind and heart. If there is something within the content of this post that is downright unscriptural, I am counting on my friends who know better to set me straight.

Main Entry: 1prod·i·gal
Pronunciation: \ˈprä-di-gəl\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin prodigus, from prodigere to drive away, squander, from pro-, prod- forth + agere to drive — more at pro-, agent
Date: 15th century

1 : characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : lavish 2 : recklessly spendthrift 3 : yielding abundantly : luxuriant.

Luke 15:11-32
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]’

22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

To my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ:
How many sermons, bible studies and personal studies have been devoted to this parable? Personally, I’ve lost count. And while I love the idea of Father God welcoming home his son who “was dead and is alive again”, it always left me with this feeling of an incomplete story. So often we devote so much discussion to the wayward son and the forgiving father. But it has been my experience that the older brother is mentioned merely as an afterthought. Even when the oldest is discussed at length, it is with the caveat that “at least he’s not THAT guy!” (referring to the younger brother).

This never sat well with me because at the end of the story, I always said to myself, “What about the older brother? That guy was a TOOL!” Perhaps it is because I naturally identify so much with the younger brother, but I think it is more than that. Check out how Luke Chapter 15 begins:

1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Is it too far of a stretch for me to suggest that the main intended audience for this parable (and the rest of them for that matter) is the Pharisees and the teachers of the law? Notice that the father (God) is reconciled with the younger son (sinners). What Jesus does not tell us is whether or not the older brother ever got over himself and realized his sin. So bitter was his hatred towards his younger sibling that he would not even recognize him as his brother. I don’t know about you, but I find this more than just a little unsettling.

As I mentioned before, I identify with the younger son, but there have been times in my life that I have identified with the older brother. When I begin to feel righteous about my faith, I try to do a gut check to make sure that it is not self-righteousness, especially when I find myself making excuses for my lack of compassion and apathy. While we are saved by grace and not works, we will give an accounting to God as to how we lived our lives; how we loved one another.

My inspiration for the post was a book by Tim Keller called The Prodigal God. While I would highly recommend the book, what I really want to recommend is this:

If it’s been awhile since you’ve read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, put aside everything else you are reading for a bit. Read this amazing and life changing story of the Savior of the world with the wonder of a child. It is the most compelling love story ever written.

“In this story [of the lost sons] the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well. St. Paul writes: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses’ (2 Cor 5:19-American Standard Version). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience…” (Tim Keller, The Prodigal God)

May you feel renewed by the love of a Prodigal God, whose love for you is beyond measure.

P.S. – Nick the Geek wrote a great post along these same lines. Check it out here

A Challenge to Believers: Non, New & Mature

Matthew 44:44

“Go ye therefore and construct church buildings and fellowship halls and put nice organs in your sanctuaries, and then you listen to sermons and beautiful music and sit around in Sunday School classrooms and talk about the Bible. And don’t forget to buy a church van so you can take the elderly and youth on nice outings.”

The scheduled post for today was more random silliness, but I’m going to save that one for tomorrow or Friday. I need to do this post. Wednesday is one of my Internet fasting days, so if you have a comment, I’ll promise to get back to you on Thursday.

I also need to explain the picture. I do not think the Bible is “goofed-up” in any way. I chose this picture because I think we goof up the Word of God by sometimes taking things out of context. I believe that the Bible — from Genesis to Revelation — is the Story of Jesus. Yes, it is more than that, but unless we understand and believe His story, what’s the point? Unlike most books, it is suggested that you begin somewhat in the middle, with the first Chapter of John, which is interesting, because in many ways, that is the beginning. (Sorry – does that make sense?)

So here’s my challenge:

To the non believer: Read the first chapter of John. Does it make sense to you? I’m not asking whether or not you believe it, I’m only asking if it makes sense. Or does it seem confusing? Completely ridiculous? Unbelievable?

To the new believer: Read Luke, Chapter 15. Who, if anyone, do you identify with in this story? Who do you believe the main character(s) to be? Not who you THINK you should identify with, or who your pastor or mentor told you was the main character. What does your gut tell you?

To the mature believer: Read Luke, Chapter 15. Same question as above. But I’m asking you to put aside your Bible commentaries and attempt to read the introduction into the parables and the parables themselves as if you are reading them for the first time.

I will be working on a post that I will publish next Wednesday. Until then, would you please indulge me just a little? I’ve heard and read the above passages so many times that I fear I have often skimmed over some very valuable teachings contained within. Please feel free to share any preliminary thoughts with me. I only ask that they come from your heart as well as your head. I would also ask that no one get into a discussion about the merits of one particular denomination over another or disparage anyone for believing or not believing in a Divine Creator. For the purposes of this discussion, I would very much like to focus on what unites us, not what divides us.

Back to more of my distinctive ridiculousness tomorrow.

P. S. – I will also be posting something about my experiences in the weird and wonderful world of church planting on Saturday. Please tell all your church planter buddies to stop by for a visit. I think us geeky church planters need to support one another!

Dear Santa,

My Dearest Rachel,
Thank you so much for your letter. It was so nice of you to take the time to write me. Your mom and dad have been very proud of you and your brother this year. Even though you don’t always get along, I know that you love each other very much. Sometimes brothers and sisters just get on each other’s nerves! You are such a sweet girl. I especially love the way you are always concerned about someone else’s feelings, even when they have been unkind to you. It takes a very special person to love that way.
Now as to your question of whether or not I am real. The simple answer is yes, I am. The complete answer requires a bit more complicated explanation. There are many boys and girls of all ages that either believed in me at one time, then stopped believing, or simply have never believed in me. There are even some boys and girls that have never heard of me, if you can believe that! Rachel, what I would like you to understand is that your belief in me makes me real. For as long as your heart tells you that there is a Santa Claus, that is where I will be. For those who say I am not real, I do not exist; for those who believe, I do exist.
I would also like to clear up a little rumor about me that has been going around since before I can remember. It is not true that only good boys and girls get presents from Santa. There are many very good children that get very little; there are others who have been very naughty indeed, yet get lots of toys. The decisions about who gets what toys I must leave to their moms and dads. It is not my place to make these choices.
The truth of the matter is that none of us are truly good except for Jesus. And Christmas is about celebrating God coming to earth in the form of a little baby born in Bethlehem. There may come a day when you no longer believe in me, and I want you to know that that is okay with me. Like I said before, I exist in the hearts of those who choose to believe in me. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, has no such limitations. He is real whether you choose to believe in Him or not, and He loves all of us so very much that He left His perfect home with God so we could someday join Him there. I know I am very special to you, and I appreciate that very much. But I also know you understand that Christmas is not about me; it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus — the very best gift of all. A very Merry Christmas to you.


Kris Kringle
aka Santa Claus

P. S. – Thanks for the milk and cookies. Chocolate Chip are my favorite!
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