In memory of Sandy Hook ElementaryIn the wake of the horror and grief in Newtown, CT, last week, many of us (including me) ask where God is. Even those with a strong relationship with Him wonder why He allows such tragedy.

In the words of Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Hab. 1:3)

First, I think it’s a good sign to wonder. It means we’re still capable of caring, that we retain some vestige of God’s image and character in us. The day that something like this doesn’t upset our collective human spirit and bring cries of protest (think Job or David) would be an alarming day indeed.

Second, no one has all the answers, least of all me. However, I believe the answer has to do, oddly enough, with the fact that God’s love is far stronger than ours. We usually think of this as a good thing until tragedy strikes. Then we don’t like God’s love so much. It doesn’t make sense.

You see, our kind of love seeks to protect at any cost the objects of our love. Safety, rather than freedom or experience or understanding, tends to take precedence. And the priority is not just safety for the loved one, but to protect ourselves from pain and grief. This kind of love is a bit selfish and thus weaker than God’s.

I don’t say this critically. It’s just how it is with finite beings who don’t have full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life, death, and everything in between. We aren’t God; and part of not being God means being vulnerable to a certain amount of fear.

By contrast, God’s love isn’t selfish or weak. Our freedom and understanding, rather than physical safety or protection, takes precedence because from His vantage point, all is well in hand even when He doesn’t like what’s going on. His posture is more relaxed because He has full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life and death. (more…)

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We can actually take charge of the sinful nature. By ourselves, we’re too fragmented to do anything comprehensive. But by partnering with Jesus, we can take control away from erratic thoughts, behavior, and ill will. The sinful nature doesn’t dictate once we shift to kingdom thinking.

When I first saw the soul diagram (see Part 1), I noticed that human construction resembles not only tree rings, but also a target. The center of the soul—heart/will/spirit—is the bulls-eye where Jesus aims. Make the center of the tree good, and the rest follows as surely as apples, pears, and figs.

This is why Jesus doesn’t aim at behavior and doesn’t teach how to follow rules. Most of us try to live right by aiming for behavior while we either ignore the heart/will/spirit or just leave it to divine override. But you don’t fix the auto-pilot by overriding it. You fix it by changing the input.

How do we do that? By gaining wisdom, the “mind of Christ.” Faith/belief begins in the mind by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17) and forming a kingdom vision. Then it settles into the heart and expresses itself as acts of will because faith acts as if something were true. The output straightens up and the airplane flies straight and level, right on course.

And that’s what “repent” means. “What good is it if a man gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mrk. 8:36-37, Luk. 9:25) (more…)

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus ...

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus College with Jesus Green to the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at a surprising debate over Jesus’ sense of humor, noting that he said to take heart and to be of good cheer.

Today, I thought it would help to add that “take heart” doesn’t mean “buck up.” We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’m going to be of good cheer because Jesus says I must.”

That’s a little like trying to put a puzzle together without the corner pieces. No one can do what Jesus says to do without first having four foundational pieces he assumes are in place when he gives any command:

  • Vision
  • A plan
  • A way to implement the plan
  • Will (or heart) and desire

Vision

If there were a single most-enabling factor for a transformed, joyful life, it would be vision. We can’t do much of anything without a clear picture of God, His kingdom, and what He’s up to with humanity. We also need to see ourselves the way God sees us—who we are, where we fit with Him, where we’re going, and why:

  1. We’re created in God’s image to rule and serve the Earth with Him.

  2. We’re to learn to do it safely and wisely, without arrogance, ignorance, or ill will. Loving God with all our heart, and loving neighbors as ourselves is Christianity 101.

  3. We learn by stepping into the kingdom of heaven, God’s world without end for Jews and Gentiles alike. 

  4. We increasingly bring our own little kingdoms—i.e., personhood, life, and will—into God’s larger kingdom. Our kingdoms are the current arenas in which we practice God’s Word, where the “bride” prepares herself.

  5. Our future thus comes full circle to (re)inherit the Earth and reign with Jesus.

I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “Jesus brings us into a world without fear…and invites us to live now in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good.”

You can read more in my articles A Vision of Purpose and A Badly Needed, Clearer Gospel. (more…)

Signature of Dr. Seuss

Image via Wikipedia

A common job-interview question asks, “If you could have lunch with anyone from history, who would it be?” So many possibilities! Abraham Lincoln. Hellen Keller. Moses. But my top choice is a toss-up between Amelia Earhart and Dr. Seuss.

Theodor Seuss Geisel was a cartoonist and writer famous for children’s books infused with upbeat wisdom disguised as catchy rhymes. My personal childhood favorite was Green Eggs and Ham. Now, as an adult, I still love it.

With the latest Dr. Seuss book-turned-movie, The Lorax, joining The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who, I can actually appreciate and marvel at the man’s writing genius. If I could have lunch with him, I’d pick his brain on how to put things so simply and plain.

I’d also be curious to see whether he was as adventurous and humorous as his characters are or whether they were some part of him that could only be set loose on paper. Either way, I think I’d order green eggs and ham, and thank him for shaping the me that I am.

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

Everyone needs a sense of value and possibility, the very essence of hope. The man has great messages for children and adults—maybe more for the adults!

Smiley face with thumbs up
Well Done!

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Mat. 25:21, 23, Luk. 19:17)

I think we’re so used to hearing that we can never do anything right that the thought of God praising His children seems strange—maybe even blasphemous. How sad! How disheartening that we’re told to love a grumpy God who doesn’t root for us, doesn’t like us much, isn’t interested in our problems or comfort, and has nothing good to say about us.

To the Gentile woman who appealed to the Jewish Son of David to heal her daughter, Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith!” (Mat. 15:28) To the Roman centurion who called upon the Jewish Master of life, he said, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!” (Mat. 8:10, Luk. 7:9)

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’” (Exo. 33:17)

“The LORD said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes…your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.’” (2Kng. 10:30)

Jesus praised the woman who poured perfume on his feet. (Luk. 7:46) The angel, Gabriel, told Mary that she had found favor with God. (Luk. 1:30) Paul proclaimed, “Now is the time of God’s favor.” (2Cor. 6:2) Jesus encouraged the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14)

It’s tough to love a stingy God who doesn’t think much of us. But God isn’t grumpy, stingy, or selfish; He’s rich with praise and encouragement if we simply listen to Him! “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (Jhn. 5:44)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jhn. 16:33)

English: Chain leash

Suppose I own two dogs, Rover and Fido. Rover needs a leash every time we go for a walk. Without it, he runs all over the neighborhood, puts himself in constant danger, and makes himself a nuisance to neighbors. I can’t trust him.

But Fido doesn’t need a leash. He happily sniffs and explores, but stays right with me no more than a few feet away. While Rover needs an external means to obey, which really isn’t obedience at all, Fido is a picture of the transforming walk with Jesus.

God wants to trust us to rule and serve with Him the way he designed us to. He doesn’t want rules or external means to control us; He wants us to control ourselves. Scripture speaks of gaining self-control and Christ-like character through practice with Jesus.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2Pet. 1:5-8)

Leash Mentality

When Jesus teaches “don’t swear,” but to simply let your Yes be yes and No be no , he’s addressing internal self-control, good judgment, and freedom versus external swearing, insistence, or proving good behavior. (more…)