Grasping for God

adult-sunday-Grasping for God

The latest series at my church was about the life of Jacob and how God changed the world through his dysfunctional family. Below are some things I learned about how God can work in the midst of messy situations.

  • When it comes to humanity, God always has the long game in mind. No matter how complicated someone’s life is at a specific moment, God wants to redeem the situation for his glory.

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” (Ephesians 1:7, NLT)

  • God wants everyone to be saved

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once stated:

“The cross is not the private property of any human being, but it belongs to all human beings; it is valid to all human beings; it is valid for all human beings. God loves our enemies- this is what the cross tells us. God suffers for their sake, experiences misery and pain for their sake; the Father has given his dear Son for them. Everything depends on this: that whenever we meet an enemy, we immediately think: this is someone whom God loves; God has given everything for this person.”

  • Jesus blesses us in the way that is described in Matthew 5:3-12. These ways (poor in spirit, mourning, persecuted, etc) can be opposite to the way the world typically views blessing. This means that having power does not necessarily mean that God is blessing you. After all, the authority of all the kingdoms of the world were given to the devil, and he could have given them to anyone he wanted to (Luke 4:5-7)
  • Even if we have been shown the faith well by our parents, it is still a challenge to make faith our own.

In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen states:

Instead of the father, the peer becomes the standard. Many young people who are completely unimpressed by the demands, expectations, and complaints of the big bosses of the adult world, show a scrupulous sensitivity to what their peers feel, think, and say about them. Being considered an outcast or a dropout by adults does not worry them, but being excommunicated by the small circle of friends to which they want to belong can be an unbearable experience. Many young people may even become enslaved by the tyranny of their peers. While appearing indifferent, casual, and even dirty to their elders, their indifference is often carefully calculated, their casualness studied in the mirror, and their dirty appearance based on a detailed imitation of their friends.

Jesus + Justice

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Followers of Jesus will be concerned about fighting for justice.

Bellow are some thoughts about this.

  • In prayer, we can be be persistent, never give up, have hearts that are soft and full of love, and not get discouraged under the weight of it all. Luke 18:1-8 describes this.
  • It is dangerous to pair the way of the world with Christianity.

Life in Christ is not meant to mirror life in a Greco-Roman culture. An ancient Middle Eastern culture is not our standard. We are not meant to adopt the world of Luther’s Reformation or the culture of the eighteenth-century Great Awakening or even 1950s America as our standard for righteousness. The culture, past or present, isn’t the point: Jesus and his Kingdom come, his will be done, right now – that is the point. (Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist)

  • A fear is that we will be more interested in appearing to be righteous than actually caring for people.

In his famous discourse the people (Jesus) criticise pray, give to the poor, and seek to live according to the Bible, but they do so in order to get acclaim and power for themselves. They believe they will get leverage over others and even over God because of their spiritual performance (“They think they will be heard for their many words”- Matthew 6:7). This makes them judgemental and condemning, quick to give criticism, and unwilling to take it.. They are fanatics. (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God)

  • Much of kingdom work is done in the hidden places. Matthew 6:1 expresses this.
  • We can move forward without fear- justice is a multi-marathon experience. As we go along, we can invite anyone into God’s kingdom; and to give their time, talent, and treasure to it.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:8-10)

Many of the thoughts in this blog were taken from the “Jesus + Justice” series at The Meeting House. 

Still Home

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COVID-19 has been a challenging time for everyone. Below are some encouraging thoughts found in scripture, that can help us now and anytime.

  • We are most like God when we are loving our enemies: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Jesus, Matthew 5:44).
  • In Christ, we’ve already passed through the narrow gate: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (Jesus, John 10:9).
  • God makes us righteous: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22).
  • The Holy Spirit helps us pray: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).
  • Sin is not what human beings really want and never satisfies the one with a new heart. We can put off sins and put on qualities that align with the new self: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Many of these thoughts were taken from the “Still Home” series at The Meeting House.

 

Peace of Mind

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During the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, staying healthy mentally is a challenge for everyone.

Below are some observations about this time.

  • There is an increased need to be conscious of when we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Sometimes bread and water is the main thing that we need in a situation (see 1 Kings 19:6)
  • All thoughts (including negative ones) can be given to Jesus in prayer at anytime.
  • It is easy to get caught in a negative cycle of thinking, because there are not a lot of environmental things changing, except for the news
  • To help improve our peace of mind, we can keep trying out coping tools until we find something that works best
  • Anxiety jumps into the future, looks at the worst case scenario, and tries to be perfect, in order to control the situation. Ways to decrease anxiety are:
    • saying 10 specific things we are grateful for
    • doing an activity you enjoy (exercising, listening to audio books, writing journal entries), or trying a new hobby
    • picturing what is making us anxious as a leaf that is going down a stream, which Jesus takes from us
  • Does what we are hearing provoke fear or action?
  • When emotional trauma comes back, it is an opportunity for healing in Jesus
  • Jesus still bore scars after his resurrection. Perhaps what we think healing and wholeness is, isn’t what Jesus thinks and knows it is.
  • God doesn’t always cause things, but He orchestrates them (see Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Kings 22:20-22)
  • If we are trying to process how to live during this time, words of wisdom can be found in: Ecclesiastes 7:1-25 and Titus 3:1-2
  • “Teach us to pray” are timely words during COVID-19, when we can’t do anything else but to stay at home. This pandemic has changed everyone’s routines and kept people stuck inside. When we can’t do anything and are bored, we can pray, instead of distracting ourselves with hobbies
  • The way we work has changed. As one of my friends said, “you can’t write a PhD paper when a lion is chasing you.”
  • Anger is an emotion that hides behind another emotion. We suppress emotions so we aren’t hurt. Anger protects ourselves. When we get angry, we can ask: why do I feel the need to bring someone lower?
    • Jesus got angry at actions that were wrong
  • Emotional reactions can include: fight, flight, freeze, and faint
  • If we understand ourselves, we can better help others

*Many of these thoughts were taken from Peace of Mind series at The Meeting House and culture conversations with Fight4Freedom.

 

Blind Religion

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Jesus seeks out people where religion doesn’t go. He pays attention to vulnerable people that religion often passes by.

For a human being, vulnerability factors like homelessness, low-self esteem, bullying, discrimination, poverty, abuse, isolation, mental health conditions, and substance use issues, can equal risk.

One risk is human trafficking.

  • Traffickers prey on the needs of people and target people in vulnerable situations. They are skilled at identifying needs and vulnerabilities and acting upon them to lure and manipulate those whom they traffic.
  • Often traffickers target isolated and vulnerable youth, and offer them love, affection, understanding, and gifts/drugs to make them feel special. This is referred to as the “grooming process”.
  • Most often, sex traffickers purposely develop a bond with the person they are trafficking, in order to manipulate them and make them believe they are better off staying than leaving.

Vulnerability can lead to risk and risk can lead to exploitation.

Religion at it’s worst will pretend not to see or walk right over those who are exploited or suffering. This was the case in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

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We also see this happening in John 9. The religious system used purity as a symbol of perfection. Blindness in the man’s life could be a symbol of being punished for sin.

Religion can sometimes assume that all forms of exploitation are because of mistakes a person or their family has made. But oftentimes, vulnerability is what led to the exploitative situation. 

There are over 2000 verses in the Bible about poverty and justice. God’s heart breaks over exploitation. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

The man was born blind and was vulnerable so that God’s works may be displayed in him. So Jesus gives the man his sight back, and sends the man to the holy pool to wash the mud off.

The initial response of the Pharisees (the religious people of the day) was not celebration, but was to check if the man had broken a law.

This shows that religion at it’s worst can lead to:

  • Creating stone cold reactions to happy things (like the healing of blindness or someone exiting the sex industry) and making people not function like normal human beings in their responses
  • Making people live in their own heads only, and giving no thought to the other parts of their humanity (heart, body)
  • Programming people as robots that just obey the rules

The next time that religion creates the temptation to pass by someone who is being exploited, we can instead have compassion for the vulnerability that led them to the situation they are in. We can pray for their healing and do what we can to help.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. (Isaiah 42:3)

Many of the thoughts in this blog post were inspired by messages in the “Blind Religion” series at The Meeting House.

 

The Best Views

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Jesus gives us our best view of God and the best view of what humanity should be like. These views lead to the good things mentioned below.

  • Being other-centred, not condemning other people, and not propping ourselves up with religious deeds.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5)

  • Making space for God in our lives, and Him filling it up. God has endless creativity and creates out of nothing. Genesis 1 shows this and Abbot John Eudes expressed this in a talk on a special Sunday during the Eucharist at the Abbey of Genesee.

While it is true that God is a hidden presence, we have only to let nature speak to us about the God who is everywhere.

  • Caring for creation. Just because we can’t do everything, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. For example, choosing to drink tap water instead of buying a plastic water bottle may be inconvenient; but it is a decision that makes a difference, no mater how small it seems to the consumer. An action like this is similar to a poor widow that Jesus talked about:

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.'” (Mark 12:42-43). 

  • Generosity. When have this posture, even when it seems like there isn’t enough (money, time, energy), there is enough.

In the Ultimate Exodus, Danielle Strickland states that:

Jesus always attacked greed with excessive generosity. He lived what I call an openhanded life. He was free. Even salvation is generous- he made it free for anyone who would receive it.

Many of the thoughts in this blog were inspired by recent messages at The Meeting House.

Get It Together

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The Christian faith is best lived when Jesus followers are living interdependent lives, and responding with action to the needs of others.

Radical individualism says that it is more honourable to suffer in silence by yourself than to reach out for help.

A person is a person through other persons (Desmund Tutu).

Christianity is not living up to it’s full potential when it’s followers are independent and merely reading scripture, without applying it’s words.

This is similar to when people live a curated life for what they want only.

Below are some of the negative things that can happen when Christ followers are competitive and focused on themselves, rather than cooperative and focused on community.

  • There is more focus on a one-time decision to follow Jesus, above life-long discipleship. Following Jesus is a free gift of grace that will cost you everything you have. It is similar to getting an acceptance offer into College or University. Saying yes to the offer is a decision to the next few years of hard work, not to an automatic degree.

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me (Jesus) cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:27-30)

  • Learning about the faith primarily becomes an information drop, instead of an experience. When this happens, people become caught in a religious loop, and it is difficult for them to discern whether or not they are actually following Jesus, or just learning more information.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Church is meant to be about learning how to live out gospel message, it’s not about getting more and more articulate about the bible.

Jesus lived life as a human. This shows that heaven is not the only thing that matters. Life on earth does as well.

God’s image is in every human being, so there is a way in which we experience God when we see each other.

  • Jesus followers talk more about the good and right things they are doing rather than admitting where they are falling short. Religion can be like a game of pinball, in that, at some point, no matter how good you are, you will lose. Religion can make people so heavenly minded, that they are of no earthly good. Moreover, when people read the scriptures as if they apply only to them as an individual, they will find it difficult to measure up to the instructions that they see in the bible. This will make people feel bad about themselves, and Satan can use this as a way to attack them. But when people read scripture with community in mind, they will have the freedom to ask for help from others with their weaknesses, and they will also be able to use their gifts to aid others in their shortcomings.
  • People invest their time, talent, and treasure for purposes of this world only, and not for the afterlife.

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:9, 13).

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).

I added the emphasis on the word “when”, because it expresses the assumption that Christ followers will be generous.

The overemphasis on investing in this life only and self-care can be a trap. People can become too focused on what culture says they need to be a successful or complete human being, but scripture invites people to move from the concept of self-care to community care. In community care, there is a symbiotic relationship that happens. Caring for others somehow helps ourselves be cared for. It doesn’t make sense that when people give away their energy, they get it back (and sometimes more of it!), but community care works that way.

Many of the thoughts in this blog post were inspired by the “Get It Together” series at The Meeting House.

 

Jonah, Jesus, and Us

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The story of Jonah is much more than a cute story that you may have learned about as a child in Sunday school class…

Jonah is about how anyone can be blessed by God, even when they don’t necessarily want to be. After Jonah was thrown overboard into the raging sea as per his request, the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow him.

When Jonah was uncomfortable, God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over him to give shade for his head.

The book of Jonah teaches that even when people are at their lowest point, God can provide a way to bless them.

Jonah 4:2 states that God is a gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

The book of Jonah expresses these characteristics of God in the ways listed below.

  • Jonah was to preach against and warn the people of Nineveh, so that God could save them, not so they would be excluded.

The bible mentions the idea that our spirituality should not lead to preaching with our ego.

Romans 12:3 states: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Moreover, Galatians 6:1 describes how a Christ follower should warn someone who is harming themselves: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

  • God cares about people no matter where they are from (even if the place is considered wicked). The Assyrians were outside of being “God’s chosen people”. Jonah was afraid that God would redeem them, which would require a re-framing of his opinions.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer expresses this idea in his thoughts about the cross:

The cross is not the private property of any human being, but it belongs to all human beings; it is valid to all human beings; it is valid for all human beings. God loves our enemies- this is what the cross tells us. God suffers for their sake, experiences misery and pain for their sake; the Father has given his dear Son for them. Everything depends on this: that whenever we meet an enemy, we immediately think: this is someone whom God loves; God has given everything for this person.

Many of these thoughts were inspired by the “Jonah, Jesus, and Us” series at The Meeting House.

Time Never Runs Out

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In the biblical story of Abraham, Abraham had a loss of relationship with his son Isaac, after he attempted to sacrifice him.

As we see in this example, the loss of relationship with someone can either lead to resentment or reconciliation. The task of the Christian is to pray and work for the latter. Christians are ambassadors of hope, even when things look hopeless.

In Ginger Gosnell-Myers’ video Canadian Shame: A History of Residential Schools, she states that we can’t treat reconciliation as a time defined program. If it takes forever, we should be ok with that! In one way, the time for reconciliation never runs out.

This reminds me of the concept of “clock building” mentioned by Jim Collins in his book Built to Last.

Imagine you met a remarkable person who could look at the sun or stars at any time of day or night and state the exact time and date: “It’s April 23, 1401, 2:36 A.M., and 12 seconds.” This person would be an amazing time teller, and we’d probably revere that person for the ability to tell time. But wouldn’t that person be even more amazing if, instead of telling the time, he or she built a clock that could tell the time forever, even after he or she was dead and gone? Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is “time telling”; building a company that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is “clock building.”

Reconciliation is about “clock building” and not “time telling”. Below are some thoughts about this topic.

  • Sometimes people don’t want to reconcile, even after our best and most honest attempts to, and we can still be at peace with that. 

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18)

  • We don’t need to wait for the perfect time, government, or celebrity influence to start working towards reconciliation. If you are a Christian, you have the most famous person in the world on your side! He can be anywhere at anytime. He can do anything by His spirit.

When I reread the gospels, paying attention to the way Jesus walked on the dust of the earth, I began to see that he felt the heat of the day and the cold of the night. He knew about the grass that withers and fades, the rocky soil, the thorny bushes, the barren trees, the flowers in the field, and the rich harvest. He knew because he walked so much and felt in his own body both the harshness and the vitality of the seasons. Jesus is deeply connected to the earth on which he walks (Henri Nouwen, Discernment)

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  • The enemy (Satan) oppresses and takes away our voices; but understanding brings freedom and the truth. When people on the fringes of society express themselves, understanding happens. Barriers to misunderstanding are misinformation and people thinking they know more than they do. People can miss the weight of what’s being said by someone on the fringes so easily, and think they have quickly solved an issue. Moreover, there is a subtle pressure within the lives of people who hold power, to keep up appearances and make it look like everything is fine. This could be because their conscience is guilty and they are trying to put history in the corner of their minds. 
  • Healing comes through a sense of belonging and when trauma is exposed, there is healing. 

Jesus did not “cure” people of their mere medical or physical ailment; he actually “healed” them and sent them on their way or back to society (Richard Rohr)

  • Reconciliation is a lifelong marathon that may span generations before there is restoration. The endurance is in being part of the solution, not the problem. Every day, we can recommit and try to do better. 

What are your thoughts?

How to stop evil

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

Despite all the good there is in the world, evil is still present in many situations that are unjust and cruel. Tragically, some of these situations involve children.

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

There are many reasons that evil persists. One of them could be the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience, which the Milgram Experiment revealed.

The human conscience can become more blunted as evil thoughts and actions continue. It could be said that there is a tipping point that eventually changes a person with a clean conscience, into being a person with a tainted one.

Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of “broken windows” can also be used to illustrate this idea.

…crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes… (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, p. 141)

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Everyone has influence. Below are some ways that people can do something to stop evil from persisting.

  • Recognise what ways (if any) that we have been part of the problem in our thoughts, words, or deeds. Jesus illustrates this “plank eye process” in Matthew 7:3-5.
  • Abstain from supporting things that create demand for the evil. This could involve not buying certain products that are directly or indirectly connected to an malevolent cause.
  • If you cannot abstain (for whatever reason), do something that sends a message to the company. To use a less extreme example as an illustration: this sometimes happens in churches when congregants designate the funds in their offering envelopes to go to a certain cause. Sometimes the specific cause does not exist and the leaders of the church need to decide what to do with the money: either ask if they can put it in the general fund instead, return it to the donor, or use it towards the desired cause.
  • Find out what is behind the evil situation and share your concern. The easy thing to do is to alienate another human being who is made in the image of God online through name calling and personal attacks. The difficult thing to do is to talk to that person (especially if they are a high profile public figure), and find out why an evil situation is happening. Sometimes leaders are so far along in the process of evil, and the pendulum of their lives has swung in the direction of cruelty. Yet this does not mean that they cannot still see the error of their ways, stop themselves, repent, and then change. Christianity gives hope that no one is too far gone to be redeemed (this truth is expressed in the example of the criminal on the cross, who was with Jesus, in Luke 23:39-43).
  • If the person does not respond for whatever reason, find someone who knows them, or someone who knows someone who knows them, and then communicate your viewpoint. The theory of six degrees of separation states that a person can be connected to any random person in the whole world through just five or six intermediary persons. This involves influencing someone that you know, who is also connected somehow to the person who is acting unjustly. The influence of the evil person on their lives, can be diminished through the relationship they have with you (the concerned person, who is not afraid to voice their opinion and take a stand).
  • Live simply. Not living beyond our means creates opportunities for other people to “simply live”. It also gives people the opportunities to be more free to speak against injustice; even if it leads to diminishing influence in society, and in turn, less riches through positions of power in corrupt companies.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10).

What are your thoughts?