To God What Is God's

Matthew 22:15-21

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

The interpretation I hear most often these days for this particular verse is that just as Caesar's image is imprinted on what you need to give, God's image is imprinted on all human beings. Thus, we are to give ourselves to God.

But I have other questions arise when I read this passage. Does Jesus mean that all money belongs to the government, so we should not expect such wealth to accumulate in the lives of His faithful followers? Another question that arises is what all belongs to God? Everything? I have argued for years now that care for the poor, handicapped, prisoners, and the like rests first and foremost with the church. This seems clear from the account just a few short chapters later, where what separated the sheep and the goats was what they did and didn't do. The indication seems clear to my reading that God has given ministering to the disadvantaged to the church to accomplish. It's not primarily the government's responsibility.

Are you giving to God what is truly due Him?

Degrees of Reality in Imagination

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.'" - Luke 12:8-9

I have a confession to make, of something that I'm still only just starting to make sense of. When I try to picture the verses above, I think I'm using my mind and imagination in the same way as I do when I'm imagining something that I don't think is historical fact. It's a different process to picture something I am completely confident has happened at some place and time. 

Intellectually I do believe that Jesus' words here are absolutely true. But it's obvious to me that I have some work to do to more deeply internalize the reality of the things. How about you? When you picture the stories of Heaven, or the miracles described in the Bible, do you use your imagination to create pictures that some part of you knows aren't historically true? Or are these and other scriptural pictures in your mind off the same quality and style as anything else you'd imagine in "the real world"?

Belief Credited as Righteousness

Romans 4:1-8 - “For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."”

I've been turning this over in my head, and I still find it stunning. Thousands of scholars and pastors have written and preached volumes on Romans, so there's nothing new I could add to the understanding of this passage. 

What is it about "believing God" that God Himself finds so compelling? How does it work that no amount or quality of works has the same forgiving and redeeming power as "just" believing God? 

Maybe it works like this: the pure reality is that, without God, we are nothing, or at least virtually nothing. If we believe otherwise, then the truth is not in us: we are living out a lie. 

So if we believe God, then we are submitting ourselves to Him, aligning our lives to Him, and thus aligning ourselves to the Truth, to the reality of things. And if we align ourselves to God and reality, we also align ourselves to humbly accepting the free gift of His salvation. Union with and obedience to the only Living God is the only true and fulfilling goal we can take on. Can you take on that goal? And when (not if) you fail from time to time, day to day, believe that the One who is faithful will continue to hold out forgiveness for you to embrace. The quicker you can accept this, the greater the part of your life will be that is filled with joy and peace, enthusiasm and love. Your belief in the Living God will check the box labeled "righteousness" for you, and the redemptive power of salvation will spill into your life.

Patient God

Love is patient. 

God is patient. He has designed and placed us within a universe that acts, more often than not, in ways that discipline and guide us more than they punish and destroy us. He repeatedly reaches out to us with grace and mercy, leading us over and over towards Him. 

He would be honored and glorified if you would actively respond, out of gratitude, to His overtures. And you yourself will benefit from obeying Him. It's a win-win. 

Respond with obedience to His patient kindness. 

Lambs Among Wolves

Luke 10:1-9

The next time someone indicates to you that following Jesus is supposed to bring us comfort and riches and lack of conflict with others, have them explain to you Luke 10:3. Jesus is directly sending his closest followers to tell people that God, their true King, is near. In His brief instructions (which go against a number of principles of conventional wisdom), He clearly says they will be vulnerable and defenseless among a group of the vicious and the violent: lambs among wolves. I wonder, did any turn back when they heard this image from Him? Did anyone argue or even discuss the risk, the danger, that this metaphor indicated they were walking into?

But at the end, the seventy(-two) "returned with joy." Jesus didn't lie to them, so there must have been very real risks they were walking into. But because they stepped forward and took that risk, the Shepherd guided them into joy. 

Why were they joyful? They had experienced firsthand the power that God through Christ has over the demons. I can only imagine what a thrill that was to experience.  But Jesus doesn't leave them worshipping or overly valuing this experience of power flowing through them. He points them to what's really valuable: the fact that God knows their own names. They are in the process of being reconciled to God. Union with the Divine is on their horizon. Exorcism, as much of a thrill as it must be, cannot compare with the eternal joy and thrill of being eternally in the presence of Love Almighty.

When we put both of these together, we can then wonder if Jesus also intended them to connect the dots: what these disciples did as God worked His power over demons through their hands, they were also, through that very process, freeing people from spiritual bondage, that the healed ones might also know and be known by God.

Fuller blessings arise for everyone as God works miracles of freedom through us. Ask Him to show you where you are in bondage, where He wants to free you. Ask Him also to show how you can humbly allow His power to work through you to set others free to also find Him.

In Him We Think

Every thought you think emerges in the presence of God. From the holiest, wisest, most profound ideas that have ever been thought, those that you would expect to have come from someone living in the presence of God, down to the most vile, perverse, reprehensible thoughts ever imagined, all thoughts have come into being on the deep ground of God's preexistence, His keeping the universe, visible and invisible, in existence.

The only difference between thought and prayer is an awareness and acknowledgement of the presence of God there.

Seeing Christ Today

People want to witness the birth, the life, the miracles, and the resurrection of Christ with their own eyes. They don't want to rely on someone else's memory, someone else's words on someone else's paper. Since they can't go back and witness those things with their own eyes, in order to believe in Him, they must see those things in us. And if Paul's crazy words are true, if Christ really lives within us, then it seems like it shouldn't be that hard for the people around us to see those things of Him, shining through us, now. 

Samuel, God, and Progressives

1 Samuel 8

The people want a king. God tells Samuel that this desire of the people is a rejection of Him, not of Samuel. How much does it stretch things to liken God's list of the dangers of concentrating power into human hands to the dangers of doing so in the progressivist movement today? It should at least inform it. Instead of looking to the Body of Christ to play a primary role in feeding the poor, housing the homeless, educating the children, and other forms of showing love to people, the progressives demand that God bless and endorse the centralized governmental structures to do it for the people, for God, and for (that is, in place of) the church.

Doing Nothing

The enemy wants you to sit in silence in a darkened room, doing nothing. This is not the struggling active engagement that looks like nothing but is more commonly known as prayer.  The enemy is more pleased by flickering first person shooters and futile infertile fantasies. He loves to see us get passively passionate about partisan politics, especially those that deny the dignity of the opposition. He wants us to empty out our lives of all deep purpose and lasting meaning. Don't give him that satisfaction.

The Sexual Revolution = Anti-Society

The sexual revolution was/is profoundly anti-society because it was/is anti-children. The older I get, the more I understand how irreplaceably valuable children are because I grasp with greater depth how valuable people are. I am struck with how wrong it is to see sex as primarily, let alone solely, a source of pleasure as opposed to being primarily a source of invaluable and precious people.

The Calling and the Patience

Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah would have been right at home in our polarized, tribalistic society. When God told him to go to Nineveh, "them" to Israel's "us," Jonah absolutely refused and ran in the other direction. And when he finally gave a grudging obedience to God's command, and his work accomplished what God has hoped, Jonah couldn't stand that God had done something good and merciful for "the bad guys." His hatred for the other side was just as blind and irrational as anything you'd find on partisan websites and TV channels of all stripes today.

What's remarkable in all this is that Jonah is a prophet chosen by God. Was Jonah as rude and unloving when God called him as he is in this story? How remarkable is it that Jonah's disobedience didn't immediately result in God striking him down? How amazing is it that God sent a whale, then the sheltering weed, and then tried to teach Jonah instead of destroying him?

In the same way, God calls each of us to unique missions, unique lives and tasks. But while we do see His righteous and just judgment throughout Scripture, we also see His grace and patience, which flows into our own lives.

Just because you've screwed up, or even rejected God entirely, doesn't mean your usefulness to Him, your preciousness to Him, is gone as well. Look for His grace in your life. See the opportunities for repentance and growth, and accept His mercy. Join Him in the work He is already doing around you.

The Sexual Revolution and the Definition of Love

The Sexual Revolution hijacked, commandeered, the definition of love. To them, love refers primarily to one's desire, not one's self sacrifice. Thus, when we hear someone emphasize that the essence of following Jesus has to do with love, we unwittingly may pull their definition in, and think that that version of following Jesus is almost infinitely malleable, and more selfish than not.

A theology or ethic defined by the SR's definition of love leads to accommodating everything to our own desires. The endgame of such a definition of love is to make things seemingly easier and easier for the self, even if it puts others at a disadvantage. The endgame or purpose of Jesus' definition of love is to put the self at a disadvantage for others' benefit. 

The Hope of the Landowner - A Communion Meditation for October 8, 2017

In Matthew 21:33-45, the parable of the landowner, the father expected the best from the vine growers. Even after they had beaten and killed the others he had sent, "He sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'” He believed that the new outcome would be better than the previous outcomes.

The Father similarly offers hope to us, in spite of our previous disobedience and sin. His mercies are new every morning. He offers us new chances, expects the best from us. And if we have accepted His Son as our Lord and Savior, and thus have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, He directly and constantly enables and empowers us to live up to the hope He has for us. He opens the horizons of hope to us, then joins and encourages us on the path, throughout our journey.

We are reminded of His presence, His enabling power, here at this table. This is His body. This is His blood. He invites us to partake, so our visceral, physical experience matches the truth, more real than the air we breathe, that His spirit is already within us, working, growing, building His kingdom.

Offering Meditation

We are foolish and wasteful with the various resources, in various realms, that God has given us. We are not perfect stewards. But God continues to provide for us, and through us He provides for others. His new mercies are poured out into our time, our knowledge, our relationships, in so many ways, including our wallets.  Give as generously as you have been given to.

God Asks, "What Do You Want?"

My child,

I've been asking you, repeatedly, over the years but more intensively over the last several months, the question, "what do you want?". I'm asking you this for several reasons (as always).

The first is, down in your soul, down in your heart, mixed in with desires that have other sources and varying levels of legitimacy, I have placed some dreams and desires and goals. I want you to find those, bring them to the surface, and make the pursuit of those goals your own. I want you to embrace those desires, and chase after those dreams, so you and I can pursue them and work on them together. But first you have to see them. First you must find them.

Second, I want you to drag out those other desires into the light of day, like you pulled out the decades-old junk from your mother-in-law's old storage room into the light of day. Like that old stuff, your old desires need to be evaluated in the light, and then dealt with appropriately. Some need to be burned and destroyed. But others are redeemable, recyclable, and yet others are perfectly good, even precious; they just need to be dusted off and given their proper place in your life.

Third, I ask you this question so that you may participate in My work. It is good and right that I am your Lord, and that you are My slave and child, obedient to Me. But as My child, made in My image, you have the ability to create, to shape and form beauty and order that didn't exist before. In this way (among others), you come alongside Me in My work. I am eager to see you join Me in this way.

But I need you to be open, honest, and fearless. You need to dig into those storage rooms in your soul and bring out all their contents so you and I can review them together. Some of the desires you find will be sinful. If you obey Me, we will deal appropriately with those desires. The point is not to demean, punish, or put you down because of what we find. The point is to remove the poison from you, to lead you toward wholeness and healing, toward the life I've always meant for you to have.

Bring it out in the open, to Me. Let it sit in the sunlight of My wisdom and love. Let me show you how your life will be fuller and richer and wiser and better without the sinful desires that have been woven into your heart. You identify with so many of them that really aren't part of you, that are actually foreign to who I've created you to be. Let me show you the child-more-alive that you are without them.

You are so precious to Me. You always have been. I gave authority and responsibility over you to people who sometimes did well, handled things like I wanted, but many times did not. In this you have much in common with many, many people. Life is the process of letting Me help you sort through everything you've believed about so many things, including how you see yourself, letting Me guide you into all truth.

Brace yourself, for this is a task that will not end this side of the grave. But at the same time, work to open yourself to the healing and joy you will find on the other side of this work. I am with you. You are not alone. We will keep after this together. You can trust Me; I hope that you will trust Me.

Giving Into Temptation

Instead of giving-in to temptation, collapsing in the face of persistent pressure, could it instead/also be giving (i.e. pouring oneself, donating) into temptation?

Temptation, the enemy, pulls and plucks at us, picks at us, until we take what we have within us, the life we carry within, and let it leave ourselves. We put that life, pour that vitality, into what we were tempted with. And because the focus of the vision was a tempting and not a divine drawing, the object we pour ourselves into does not deliver or develop more life; it destroys it. A sieve, our life goes into and through it and is wasted. 

The Unrepeatability of Life

At some point in my 20's or 30's I realized that my unwitting attitude towards the unrepeatable nature of life wasn't aligned with reality. On more than one occasion I found myself surprised at situations where I didn't get a second chance. When I stepped back and thought about it, there was no rational reason I should have expected second chances in those situations. But unconsciously, I did have that expectation. Why?

The best theory I ever came up with was the way my mind had been shaped by video games. Over and over, if I died too many times in the game, all I needed was another quarter, or to own the game, to keep on playing. I came to expect that reality worked like that somehow.

But of course it doesn't work that way. There are consequences to our actions, and most of the time nothing short of miracle will undo those consequences.

What's doubly amazing to me about this pattern in myself is that 1) our family never owned a videogame or videogame console; 2) growing up I didn't have the amount of quarters it would take for me to hammer home the message that life is a repeatable, disposable thing like it sometimes seems it is; and 3) when I was growing up, video games weren't ubiquitous like they are today. Is this other assumption of repeatability also ubiquitous today?

What about you? Have you internalized this sense that everything in life is repeatable? Do you wordlessly assume that if you fail this current situation, there will always be more chances? How do you combat this feeling, and align your life with what is, instead of what you wish was?

The Humble Anonymity of God

One of the things that bugs me, and has bugged me for years, is when people attribute something that I believe is the work of God to someone or something else.  Some examples:

  • when someone talks about looking for their life’s calling, and phrase it as “what yourlife is calling you to do,”
  • when someone talks about listening to “the universe” for answers to a question,
  • when someone outlines a process where you describe a problem at one point in time (e.g., in the morning), then at a later point (e.g., in the evening) listen to or read your description and you receive an answer to the problem “because you are really conversing with someone much wiser and saner as you write: your authentic self.”

I don’t want to diminish or dismiss the ability that humans have, the role we play, in creative output of all kinds.  I do believe that humans can and do create (albeit in a qualitatively different manner, being a rearrangement of what exists, from God’s ex nihilo creating).  But to me it’s a mystery to describe where all new ideas come from.  Maybe new ideas are spontaneously (?) generated within the human heart/mind/soul, at least some of the time.  But I have to believe that some of the time (how much of the time?) God actually drops ideas, solutions, into our heads.  He provides guidance to us.  He comforts us, “reminds us of the truth,” leads us in the way everlasting, etc.  I don’t know exactly where that ends, and where independent information, creditable to us as humans and not (or at least less) to God’s activity within us.

And ultimately, if there’s an area that is in any way “gray” concerning when we should credit God vs. crediting ourselves, or some semi-anonymous pseudo-entity, I want to err in the direction of giving God more credit.

What’s amazing to me is that God, who is obviously doing far more than we give Him credit for, doesn’t express some displeasure at being ignored in this.  He continues to serve us with creativity, guidance, teaching, and love, whether we acknowledge His work or not.