Tag Archives: Bad

Santa God

Santa God (CaD Gen 15) Wayfarer

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

This is the problem: It’s too easy to mix-up God and Santa Claus.

Life is a meritocracy from a young age. In my earliest cognitive memory around ages 3 to 4, I find myself under the authority of parents who make it quite clear that if I’m obedient and do what they say, then I’m golden, but if I’m disobedient, then I’m going to be punished.

By the time I’m five, the biggest gift giving holiday of the year solidifies this meritocracy in my brain with Santa Claus as the omniscient authority figure determining if the annual balance of my goodness and badness warrants me receiving a stocking full of candy and socks and a bunch of presents under the tree. If the scale tips to the badness spectrum, it’s coal for me.

Within just two years, I become involved in scouting program which rewards my good deeds and behavior with awards, badges, and medals. I continue to develop an understanding of meritocracy. There is a reward for ambition and good behavior, those who excel are on display for the whole world to see with their medals, badges, and awards. If I have less, shame enters the equation. I’m not as good. I don’t have as many badges. I am less than.

And, each year Santa drives home the “naughty or nice” lesson.

At the same time, my earliest experiences in organized sports adds yet another object lesson in meritocracy. The kids who are naturally coordinated, developed, and have knowledge of the game are successful. Meanwhile, I increasingly ride the bench and watch the coach’s wife score the game. (For the record, my little league baseball career lasted two years, but to this day I like scoring games.)

And, Santa, my stocking, and gift haul remind me annually that gifts are a reward for good behavior.

I’m twelve by the time I have my first serious discussions about God. Yes, I grew up attending Sunday School most Sundays and Vacation Bible School each summer, but it wasn’t very exciting and seemed to be a lot about stories that support the good behavior business. In my journey, it was confirmation class in 7th grade that was a year-long primer on the Bible and God.

In retrospect, I had already a well-developed sense of how God worked based on my life experiences. And, it looked a lot like the Santa. If I’m good, then God will answer my prayers, my life will go well, and I’ll end up in heaven. If I’m bad or fall short then my prayers will not be answered, bad things will happen, and I’ll end up in the fires of hell (burning with Santa’s coal, no doubt). As a child, I was pretty darn sure that all four of the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl losses were my fault, God’s punishment for something I’d done.

I’m sure that Mrs. Washington’s confirmation class attempted to teach me about God’s grace and love, but my brain and soul were already branded by the Santa principle.

In today’s chapter lies a simple verse that is almost never talked about among Jesus’ followers even though it is foundational to understanding Jesus’ core message. Paul uses it to argue that Jesus’ message was God’s message from the beginning. The author of Hebrews does so, as well. For followers of Jesus, this verse is crucial to know, digest, and cling to:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

No meritocracy.

No addendum talking about being good, pure, and holy.

No mention of achieving, doing unto others, going to church, or giving money.

Just believe. That’s what faith is. To believe.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Act 16:31

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 8:9-10

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it is so hard to get out of the God as Santa mindset. God says “My ways are not your ways” and this applies to perhaps the most important question of all: How can I be saved?

Humanity’s way:

“Be good, work hard at it, keep all the rules, and maybe you’ll earn salvation like a present under the tree.”

God’s way:

“Just believe. Ask me to come in. Receive my love and forgiveness. That’s it. You see, once you’ve truly experienced My unmerited love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, I trust you’ll be inspired and motivated to choose and practice obedience out of your own freedom and gratitude. That’s how I roll. That’s how I’ve always rolled, like I did with Abram.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about all the ways I still wrestle with “Santa God” after 40 years. It still creeps in to haunt me. Meritocracy is a hard habit to break, both in the way I see God and myself, but also in the way I see, approach, and treat others.

I’m also reminded that I can’t do anything about previous days. I’ve only got this day that lies before me. I’ve got this day to just believe Jesus, to receive His love and grace, and then to let that love and my gratitude flow in goodness.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Sow What?

Sow What? (CaD Mk 4) Wayfarer

Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

It is spring in Iowa, arguably the best place to grow things in the world. Growing up, the stated used the tag line: “A place to grow.” I always found this a great tag line full of metaphorical layers. I’m sad it got buried under slogans like “You make me smile!” and “We do amazing things with corn.”

Spring brings my perennial desire to plant something and make it grow. I have to confess that when it comes to being a child of Iowa I’m a bit of a prodigal. Growing things has never come naturally to me. I’ve done okay with my rosebushes, but I think it’s because they do well on their own despite me. Last spring we planted some herbs on the patio. I even got to use them to make fresh seasoning a few times before they died.

It’s a beautiful thing about the cycles of life, isn’t it? It is perennial. Hope springs eternal with Easter. Every spring the Cubs have a chance to win the World Series and I have a chance to successfully grow something. It doesn’t matter that the odds are 1:108. There’s still a chance, and each spring the hope is intoxicating.

Last year, Wendy and I bought actual herb plants. Undeterred by their premature death, I decided that this year we’re going to grow them from seeds. If I’m going to commit serial herbicide, I might as well make it more difficult. So, we got three grow-kits with pots, dirt, and seeds.

What struck me as I planted the seeds was how minuscule they were. Seriously, I felt like I was sprinkling dust particles in the dirt! I followed the instructions for watering and a week or so later Wendy and I went to the lake for a long weekend. When we got back, there were actual plants growing in two of the three pots. What did I do wrong with the third plant? I’m telling you: I can kill a plant before it even sprouts! When I contacted the grow-kit company I was told that sometimes you can get “bad seed.” I’m not sure what that means, but it felt like a pardon from the Governor. I sanded out a couple of notches off the handle of my garden trowel.

I thought about my little herb garden as I read today’s chapter. Jesus uses planting seeds as a word picture of God’s Kingdom. The seed can be as small as a speck of dust, but it can sprout and grow into something huge. Which is why earlier in the chapter Jesus told another story about a person who was sowing seed as they journeyed along. The seed was sown everywhere, which got me mulling this over.

Jesus told His followers that the seed is the Word. In the Great Story I learned that Jesus is the living Word and also incarnate Love. So, one way I sow the Word along my life journey is by sowing love that is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and self-controlled. In doing this, I’m scattering that hopeful possibility of spring that the seed might happen to fall upon a soul that it good soil for that seed to germinate and grow into something exponentially huge in relation to that little seed sown in a gentle word, a gesture of forgiveness, a random act of kindness, or a timely hug.

Of course, the Great Story also talks about bad seed that can equally be sown. The seeds of hatred, anger, malice, chaos, violence, rage, jealousy, envy, selfishness, dissension, and division. Bad seeds don’t grow much of anything.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again looking within and without. What am I sowing in my thoughts, words, actions, reactions, posts, tweets, replies, and comments? I look outward at the things I see in the media, on social media, and the people I “follow.” What is being sown? Good seed? Bad seed?

I don’t want to be judgmental, but I do want to be wise.

I can’t control others, but I can control myself.

I am embarking on yet another day. Day number 20,088 of my earthly journey.

It’s spring in Iowa. A place to grow.

What am I going to sow today?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The “Why Me?” Blues

The "Why Me?" Blues (CaD Ps 7) Wayfarer

O Lord my God, if I have done this,
    if there is wrong in my hands…

Psalm 7:3 (NRSVCE)

David is on the run from his King, Saul. David is God’s anointed to ascend the throne, but Saul is still wearing the crown and he is hell-bent on killing David and keeping the throne to himself. To accomplish the task, Saul puts a price on David’s head. Bounty hunters are on the loose and they have David in their sites. The reward is not just the bounty, but the favor of the king and all that comes with it.

King Saul is from the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin, and in his tribe, there is a man named Cush who is after Saul’s favor and David’s demise. In those days, hunters often used a technique of digging a pit and arranging for your prey to fall into it. Cush is digging pits to trap David.

I tend to believe that David, after being anointed God’s choice for the throne by the prophet Samuel, probably thought the road to the throne would be a cakewalk. But Saul still has a tight grip on the crown and David finds himself wandering in the desert avoiding the pits that Cush has laid out for him like a modern-day minefield.

“Why me?”

That’s the refrain of David’s heart, and in that spirit he writes a song. Today’s psalm are the lyrics.

“Why me?”

I used to ask that question a lot as a child when things weren’t going my way. I confess, victim mentality comes naturally when you’re the youngest sibling (btw, David was the youngest of eight brothers). There are a lot of times in life, especially when I was young when my mind and heart assumed direct connections between my negative circumstances and divine wrath. If something bad happened in my world, then it must be God punishing me. If I couldn’t come up with any reason God would want to punish me for anything, then I would start singing the “Why me?” blues.

It’s helpful to put myself in David’s sandals as I read the lyrics of today’s psalm. David begins by reminding God of his faith in God’s protection and his acknowledgement that without it, he’s a dead man. David then pleads his innocence. David has done some soul searching and can’t come up with any reason why God would be ticked-off at him, so he sings “If I deserve it, then let Cush take me.”

Having established his innocence, David shifts from plea to prosecution, asking God to rain down justice on the wicked. He envisions Cush digging a bit to trap David only to fall into it himself with Shakespearean irony.

Having expressed his trust, lament, plea, and prosecution, David ends his song in gratitude and praise. He’s musically thought through his circumstances, poured out his heart of anxiety, fear, and uncertainly. He finds himself back in the refuge of God’s protection, trusting God to sustain him against the traps and attacks of his enemies.

Along my life journey, I matured from the childish notion that every negative thing that happens to me is some kind of divine retribution for my wrong-doing. At the same time, I’ve recognized that my mature adult brain can find itself reverting back to childish patterns of thought and behavior, especially when I’m reacting to unexpected tragedy or stress.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself realizing that I often have to do what David did in today’s psalm. I have to process my thoughts and emotions. I have to walk through them, get them out, express them on paper or in conversation with a trusted companion. Once they’re out in the open, in the light of day, I can usually see them with more context and clarity. Silly, childish, tragic, or toxic thoughts and emotions tend to thrive in the darkness of my soul. Bringing them into the light allows me to see them for what they really are. They lose their power and I am able to get my heart back in alignment, my head on straight.

The “Why me?” blues can be good for the soul.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Overturning the Scales on the Spiritual Economy

There is, however, some good in you.
2 Chronicles 19:3 (NIV)

In the past few months my past has resurfaced. It happens once in a while. My many failures are a matter of public record. I have spoken openly about them. For certain individuals my record makes me questionable, and every so often the questions come around again.

I find spiritual economics to be a fascinating thing; The way in which we determine, quantify, and respond to the “good” and “bad” (or “righteousness” and “sin”) within ourselves and others. The way we use key indicators within our spiritual economy to determine our view of everyone and everything around us.

The Chronicler and his ancient world had a very ordered system. He dictates for us whether Kings were winners and losers in the spiritual economy. The good and bad are spelled out in black and white terms. In the previous chapter Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, so in today’s chapter the Seer Jehu calls him out for his “bad,” but then declares “There is, however, some good in you.” The rest of the chapter goes on to describe Jehoshaphat’s exemplary efforts to promote and improve domestic justice in his kingdom. We the readers feel the scales on the spiritual economy tipping back and forth.

It’s no wonder that to this day we perpetuate variations on this system of weighing and judging people on our personal, spiritual economic scales. It’s a very human thing to do. Yet, one of the radical things that Jesus brought to the table was a radically new spiritual economy. He turned the system upside down. In Jesus’ spiritual economy there was no one who measured up on their own. No personal righteousness was enough to tip the scales to the “good.” Every person was in need of grace and mercy. As James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” So the “righteous” religious people who were “good” in the standard spiritual economic system incurred Jesus’ wrath, while He made a habit of hanging out and showing kindness, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy to the “bad,” the sinful, the marginal, and the questionable.

This morning I’m once again looking back across my journey. I don’t think I would have fared particularly well in the Chronicler’s spiritual economic scale. I don’t fare particularly well in the spiritual economic scales of some of my fellow believers.

Two things come to mind as I mull these things over in my heart.

One is a passage I memorized long ago. I like how The Message puts it:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10

The other is these lyrics from Bob Dylan:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there.
Other times it’s only me.
I’m hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow fallen.
Like every grain of sand.

Walking Humbly

The Lord Almighty planned it,
    to bring down her pride in all her splendor
    and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
Isaiah 23:9 (NIV)

The autumn season it a busy time for my business. We begin looking the coming year, preparing proposals for clients, and forecasting what the coming year will look like for us. Over a quarter century I have experienced both the highs and lows of business. For a long time it seemed that our company’s business would continue to grow at a fast pace. I can remember a number of years of continuous expansion when it seemed nothing could stop us.

I’ve learned, however, that things can change in a hurry. It’s amazing how quickly a person can go from dreaming big to scrambling to make ends meet. It’s a humbling experience.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah turns his prophetic eye on the city of Tyre which was a powerful port of trade on the Mediterranean. The trading ships of Tyre did a lot of business, and they had been on a good run for a long period of time. Isaiah prophetically warned them to get ready for a devastating change in the business forecast.

Isaiah points out that the coming devastation was intended by God to teach humility. It was another one of the ancient prophets, Micah, who said that what God really requires of us is to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.” I like the image of walking humbly. Humility is not momentary. It’s not like a coat we put on for a chilly day. It’s an everyday mindset for every stretch of life’s journey, both the  bears and the bulls, the peaks and the valleys, the good times and the bad.

This morning I’m thinking again of our nation. Some are feeling smug and assured in victory. Some are feeling devastated in the sting of defeat. Days like these bring out the absolute worst that pride produces in us, both in triumph and tragedy. I am thinking about Tyre in its booming heyday, and impending decline. I am remembering my own pride when I believed nothing could go wrong, and the painful days when it actually did. I am reminded this morning of walking humbly every step of this journey.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image by antrover via flickr

(Not) Missing the Point

“…[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit….”
Titus 3:5 (NIV)

There is a fascinating and utterly critical matter lying beneath the structure of Paul’s letter to Titus in today’s chapter. It is essential to understanding God’s Message.

Our chapter begins with Paul instructing Titus to remind the followers of Jesus to be obedient and to do good:

  • Be subject to rulers
  • Be subject to authority
  • Be ready to do whatever is good
  • Slander no one
  • Be peaceable
  • Be considerate
  • Always be gentle

Here is a do-gooders laundry list. “Surely this is what God expects,” I can hear a heart whisper, “There’s no way. I’ve done too many awful things. I’m such a wretch. There’s no use trying. I could never be what God wants me to be.”

But we can’t stop with the list. The very next thing Paul does is remind Titus of what both of them were, in the past tense:

  • Foolish
  • Disobedient
  • Deceived
  • Enslaved to passions
  • Enslave to pleasures
  • Malicious
  • Envious
  • Hated by others
  • Hating others back

What a contrasting list. Here is a description most of us can identify with. We know the struggle against our own selves, our selfishness, foolishness, and out of control appetites. We know the shame of our own failures.

So, how do we get to the former list when our lives are described by the latter? Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s next words to Titus this way:

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life!

Here is the crux of Jesus’ teaching, and what I believe is the most amazing piece of it. Gods acceptance isn’t the result of being a do-gooder and earning some kind of spiritual merit badge. We are accepted by God amidst of our ever present laundry list of failures simply by His mercy. We don’t become do gooders to earn God’s mercy. God’s mercy is poured out over us, because of what Jesus did on the cross and because of the empty tomb, so that our lives might be transformed. The transformation is not our doing; It’s God’s work in  and through us after simply accepting this amazing, gracious gift.

Today, I’m reminded that goodness is not a prerequisite of God saving me, but the result of God saving me. If I miss this truth, than I miss the entirety of Jesus’ teaching.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image via www.radiate.li

The Big Lie

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land
Deuteronomy 9:5 (NRSV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the morning message among weekly worship with my local group of Jesus followers. In the message I shared what I believe to be the most subtle, insidious lie that we are led to believe about God and eternity: it’s about what we do or don’t do. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)

Then this morning I read God sharing a similar message to the Hebrews through Moses. I hear in Moses’ message the concern that once the people took possession of the land they would “probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.” Moses reminds them that it’s all God’s doing, not theirs.

I so easily fall into the mindset that God will accept me or reject me based on my deeds, good or bad. If I fall into sin I believe God will punish me. If things are going well I get the feeling I must be doing something right for God to be blessing me. So I do extra good things to try and counter balance the bad and earn a little extra blessing. I think in the back of my head that eternity must be based on some giant set of scales that will weigh out the good and bad in my life. If good tips the scales I’m in, if my good falls short of my bad then I’m hosed. But that’s not at all what Jesus taught and what God’s Message says. Here’ another reminder I shared yesterday:

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m grateful for all the God has done in redeeming me and thankful that it’s not up to me or my effort, my good deeds, or my ability to earn my way into God’s good graces. God’s gift has restored my relationship with Him and given me back my life.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 36

Big Spring, a giant karst spring in The Ozarks...

For you are the fountain of life,
    the light by which we see.
Psalm 36:9 (NLT)

One of our favorite places to take guests down at the lake is Ha Ha Tonka State Park. If you arrive by boat and take a leisurely hike down the trial you’ll find a natural spring. The cool, fresh water bubbles endlessly up from the depths of the Earth. I thought of that spring when I read the lyric of today’s psalm about God being a fountain of life.

I also found it interesting that God’s bubbling spring life life comes after a descriptive image of the wicked earlier in the psalm. “Everything” the wicked say is crooked and their actions are “never good.”  In other words, they are a contrasting fountain of stuff that leads to death compared to God’s spring of life.

Jesus said that it’s out of the overflow of our heart that our words and actions spring. Today, I’m thinking about my words, my thoughts, and my actions. Do they  bubble up from an inner spring of Life, or do they emanate from a deathly emptiness of the soul?

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 14

by HikingArtist via Flickr

But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one!
Psalm 14:3 (NLT) 

Life is full of contradictions. Our lives are full of contradictions. Welcome to fallen humanity.

If you take the time to investigate my life, you’ll find plenty of dirt. For all my chapter-a-day goodness you’ll find plenty of sin-a-day skeletons. I can spare you the trouble of the investigation. If you’re interested, just buy me a cup of coffee or a cold pint and I can tell you the whole story and show you the skeletons in my closet.

I mentioned earlier that those who put the Psalms together did so in a very specific way. Psalm 3 through Psalm 14 make up 64 lines in the Hebrew language in which they were written. The 12 Psalms all fit together. Psalm 8 ended the first half of the section talking about how wonderful mankind is, and how wonderfully God made us just a little lower than the angels. Today’s Psalm is the bookend contradiction. Man is a fool and there’s not one on the whole Earth who seeks after God.

I have never claimed to be perfect. Like everyone else, my life has contradictions. I’m simply a wayfaring stranger making my way on the journey home. The thing about skeletons is that they are just that: the left over remnant of something that died and decomposed over time a while ago. I’ve got plenty of them. Yet, with each step in this journey I’m striving to leave behind what is dead and embrace Life.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 12

source: sebflyte via Flickr

Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing!
    The faithful have vanished from the earth!
Psalm 12:1 (NLT) 

Everyone of us feel things extremely from time to time. Stretches of life’s journey which are particularly stressful or anxious tend to feed our innate ability to feel that all of life is completely out of whack. Out of our intense emotion we then tend to speak in hyperbole.

I am often struck by news commentators, politicians, public speakers and preachers who feed on the public’s penchant for being emotionally whipped up by sensationalist and extreme statements. In an era of instant news from around the globe on a 24/7/365 basis we are constantly bombarded with stories and visions of tragedy, injustice, violence, and upheaval. It’s easy for our hearts to cry out with David: “The godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth!”

The truth is that there is an equally amazing amount of generosity and good being done by countless godly people around the globe. Those stories, sadly, do not drive high ratings, web hits, converts or financial contributions.

Today, I’m putting on my filters as I hear the news coming at me from a myriad of sources. I want to be realistic about what is happening but I’m refusing to give into fear and anxiety. I’m choosing to balance all the doom and gloom with the many good things I know God and His people are doing throughout the world today.