My God is bigger than that

The emotions are riding high in light of what has happened in Newtown, CT. We all have a lot of opinions about a lot of different things. It seems the only thing that we aren’t divided on is our devastation over the loss of innocent lives.

I’m not here to rant about gun control or mental health…although I do have strong opinions about those things. Among all of the things that people are debating right now, in light of the tragedy, this is the thing that has me the most riled up:

This is one of the most offensive things I have ever seen. And to be clear, I am a Christian.

The argument that the absence an official school prayer time would indirectly (or directly) correlate with a slaughter in an elementary school is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. And, again…I am a Christian.

One of the things I love to do when studying the Bible is to keep an on-going list of God’s attributes as I’m studying a passage. Doing this helps me understand God’s overall character. Understanding God’s character helps me identify when His character is being portrayed falsely. Here is a partial list of the attributes that I’ve listed in my Bible:

Creator
Good
Powerful
Wise
Loving
Omnipotent
Omnipresent
Graceful
Sovereign
Joyful
Forgiving
Truthful
Eternal
Unchanging
Glorious
Faithful
Holy

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on “omnipresent”.

First, let’s define it:

om·ni·pres·ent

/ˌämnəˈpreznt/

Adjective
  1. (of God) Present everywhere at the same time.
  2. Widely or constantly encountered; common or widespread: “the omnipresent threat of natural disasters”.

As it relates to God, it means this is the attribute of God by which He fills the universe in all its parts and is present everywhere at once. Not a part, but the whole of God is present in every place.

Now, let’s support it with Scripture:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
(Psalm 139:8 ESV)

“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV)

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
(1 Kings 8:27 ESV)

…that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
(Acts 17:27 ESV)

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
(Ephesians 4:10 ESV)

This is a small list, but the conclusion is that, in the simplest terms, there is no place to go where God is not already there.

And, then there is the Christmas story…

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
(Matthew 1:23 ESV)

Christians believe that this is fulfillment of the prophesy laid out in Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
(Isaiah 7:14 ESV)

The point is this: If you believe God is omnipresent, then you believe God is everywhere. Not everywhere except public schools. He’s not the big bad wolf who is stopped by brick.

I realize that this opens up questions. Questions like, “if God is everywhere, why did this happen”. It’s another blog post (or several) all-together, but I feel like I need to at least address it. I only wish I had a compelling answer. The only thing I can say for sure is that in His mercy and grace and love, God gives us free will. We are not puppets in a grand performance. And, there is unspeakable evil in our broken world. Hence, our desperate need for a Savior. The hope that I personally have is summed up in Revelation 22:20 and is the prayer that I always pray when I am distraught:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

(Revelation 22:20 ESV)

Back to the t-shirt above. When I see that, I automatically think that whoever believes that doesn’t know the true character of God. To say that God is not in schools is to believe that he is NOT omnipresent.

I’m not trying to be judgmental, although I realize I probably sound that way –and maybe I actually am. But, I’m really trying to point out that when people know you are a Christian, they are watching and listening to what you do and say. And, when you say that God is being controlled by humans, it diminishes your witness.

Finally, there are a lot of people who are sincerely asking the question that the t-shirt asks. Christian, is that the answer you really think that God would give to somebody who is hurting?

The Sheep and the Goats

Universal healthcare, lately refered to as “Obamacare”,  is a hot topic — especially during election years.  I am an unashamed, whole-hearted supporter.  I believe that access to affordable healthcare is a constitutional right — promised in the Declaration of Independence under “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  So, when things  like this happen, it crushes me.

People should not be in an ambulance, critically injured — and worried about how expensive medical care is going to be.

I don’t know Luke personally, but we went to the same church .  I know who he is and we have mutual friends.  I have had the pleasure of hearing him perform and he is an amazingly gifted musician.

My heart is broken that his family has to worry about medical bills when their only focus should be his recovery.  Not only that, because he is self-employed, their income source is now cut off and they have to worry about daily bills as well.

It’s not okay.

This man works as hard as any of us who have the luxury of health insurance through our employers.  Maybe harder.  He made a choice to use his resources to buy health insurance for his daughter, because that’s what parents do.

It’s not okay.

It pisses me off that healthcare is politicized.  Affordable healthcare should not be a political issue.  It’s a humanitarian issue. We have a responsibility to take care of each other.  Stories like Luke’s happen every day.

It’s not okay.

In the end, we all need to think about the fact that many of us are just one freak accident away from losing everything…from being dependent on the kindness of friends…and perhaps strangers…to make ends meet.  Even those of us with “good insurance”.  Unless you’ve had to use your insurance, you don’t really know how good it is.  I know a little bit about using insurance and my guess is that you’d be surprised.

If you have a few dollars and want to help this family out — in what is sure to be a long journey — you can help out here.

 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’   (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)

Romans 10:9 and my love/hate relationship with Christianity

… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

I have a love/hate relationship with Christianity. It goes something like this:

I love Jesus.

I hate that people say that one must to do something other than love Jesus in order to call themselves a Christian.

I love Jesus.

I hate that we categorize people as believers and non-believers, whom we must somehow save (or not). We forget that we don’t do the saving. God does. When we convince ourselves that we somehow have something to do with it, we are making ourselves God and that’s idolotry.

I love Jesus.

I hate that people act like they know for an absolute fact who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t. It’s as if they don’t believe that God has the power to accomplish something bigger than our minds can comprehend. Here’s an extreme example: Jeffery Dahmer in heaven? Not a chance, we say. And yet, he proclaimed himself to be a born-again Christian. We believe that Jesus performed countless miracles and was raised from the dead and yet we don’t believe that God can redeem the heart of a sinful man? At the core, that is unbelief in the gospel.

I love Jesus.

I hate that a Jesus-loving black man stood in my kitchen last week and told me that he’s been told before that because his skin is black, he is a child of Satan. There is no scripture that gives us a complete physical description of Jesus (except in Isaiah 53:2, it does say that he was rather average), but I am 99.99% sure that he doesn’t look like this:

20120429-134732.jpg

I love Jesus.

I hate that we use New Testament scripture as proof text as to why we are saved…and, we use Old Testament scripture as proof text as to why others aren’t. The Jesus we believe in, that we rejoice in his sacrifice and proclaim “He is Risen!” on Easter morning? He did that to fulfill those laws. Does it mean that we are to just go on sinning? No. But that is a whole study of Romans which could take months. My point is that we should be focusing on redemption and grace. Because, if we really are concerned about people, we aren’t going to do anything but drive them away by making them feel bad about themselves in Jesus’ name.

I love Jesus.

I hate that my faith gets questioned by people who think that Christians are of a certain political party. I have a whole diatribe on that, but I’ll just say that I can be a Democrat liberal and love Jesus at the same time. It makes perfect sense to me, but that’s another post for another day.

I love Jesus.

I hate that people suggest that science is in opposition to creation. If you believe that God created the universe, why is it so far fetched to believe that He used science to do it? We often refer to God as the Great Physician…why isn’t he also the Great Scientist?

I love Jesus.

I hate that we categorize sin. Sin is sin. It’s all in opposition to God and separates us from Him. Just because I can justify my act of anger toward somebody (clearly they acted a fool) doesn’t make it any less a sin than if I murdered somebody. Sound extreme? Read Matthew 5:21-22 and you’ll see what I mean. The point is not that if we get angry, we will go to hell. The point is that one sin is not bigger than the other. Still don’t buy it? Read James 2:10. Here, I’ll make it easy (but you should still look it up and not assume…)

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10 ESV)

Nobody’s sin is bigger than anybody else’s. And when we start pointing out other people’s sin (which is SO easy to do), we raise the bar infinitely higher for ourselves. What these passages are telling us, in my opinion, is that we can’t do it on our own. That’s why we need a Savior. So, to get back to my original point, we spend too much time pointing out the sins of others instead of telling and SHOWING them the good news of Christ.

There’s a quote that many attribute to St. Francis of Assisi. It says “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”. There’s no proof that he actually said that, but I digress. It serves as arsenal for people who either want to call Christians out for the rubber not meeting the road or for those who don’t really want the burden of saying the word “Jesus” out loud in mixed company. I can call out both groups because I have landed in each one at various times in my life. I’m not proud of it, just being real. Anyway, I have heard many bible teachers that I respect greatly disagree with the sentiment, saying that we always need to use words…to do anything less would be lukewarm. I think that if all we do is use words, it can be pointless and counter-productive. I can’t just walk up to my agnostic co-worker and read scripture to him and ask if he wants to recite the sinner’s prayer now. Even *if* he didn’t tell me I was crazy and walk away, I would then have to Google a generic sinner’s prayer because I wouldn’t know anything about his life or his story in a way that would make that prayer at all meaningful. You see, I believe that you have to show the gospel in order to share the gospel. Showing it doesn’t absolve us from sharing it, but how do we build relationships otherwise? I don’t take parenting advice from people who I think are terrible parents. Why would I ask somebody about Jesus if I didn’t think they walked the walk?

So, instead, I do my best to follow what Jesus said in Matthew when asked “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)

Love God. Love People. No other rules or conditions. And, essentially, I think what verse 40 is saying is that the whole of the Law and Prophets (Old Testament) is dependent on these two commandments.  Think about it, if we all loved God and loved people, what purpose would a commandment not to murder even have?  There would be no murder.

If you are like me, the commandment to love our neighbors is overwhelming.  Because Jesus doesn’t tell us to love the people that we like.  Or love the people we agree with.  We are to love all people.  How on earth do we do that!?  Well, that’s why the first commandment is to love God.  I have found that when you love God, it is easier to love people. Not easy. Easier. And honestly, I find that it’s easier to love people who are not Christians because I don’t expect as much. And, then I realize that I’m putting conditions on them (the Christians) which is exactly what I’m irritated about in the first place.

This really started out as a pithy list I had going in my mind about why I hate religion. The truth is that I don’t really hate religion, there are a lot of good things about religion; but I think it can sometimes distract us from what our mission as Christians really is. And it’s not pithy. It’s complicated. And, it’s important.  But, sometimes I just can’t shake this thought from my mind:

Seriously.

I should note that I have many Christian friends who might read this and wonder if I am judging them. If I’m honest, perhaps I am. But, the way it plays out in my mind is how I am raising the bar for myself. So, it’s a self-reflection in that regard. On the other hand, I have many non-Christian friends who might read this and wonder if the only reason I’m friends with them is to convert them. No. In fact, you are the reasons why these thoughts begin to bounce around in my head. Why I examine my own interpretation of my faith and the scriptures. Why I am constantly trying to learn more, and in that process realize that there is so much I don’t know. Why I feel so strongly about loving the people whom God has seen fit to put in my life. Why I am content to let God be bigger than I can ever imagine. And in the process of knowing me, I pray that you might get a glimpse of the Jesus that I love. And, if you ever want to know about my faith, ask me. I’m an open book.