“It’s Not About Being One Of The Best”

This post is a followup to yesterday’s post and tries to fill in a few gaps that may explain why some people become who they are.

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.”

I don’t know when we stop becoming little ones. There are times that I want to go back to being a little one, particularly on days when I feel I have absolutely no strength in myself.

I have a feeling that there are some things that we have to resolve when we are a little one, and if we don’t resolve them then, they will confound us until we do. One of those things is the love of Jesus.

Perhaps one of the strongest senses a child has is whether or not they are loved. It may be stronger than their sense of whether or not they are warm and nourished. Children gravitate to love. They want to figure out how to receive more of it. Sometimes it’s very difficult to figure out, particularly when using just outward appearances. Sometimes outward appearances appear to be what love is all about. Who always seems to have new stylish clothes? The popular new toy? Who always seems to get picked for special privileges at school and at church? Who is “The Best Boy” in my class? Who is “The Best Girl”?

God made you just the way you are.

God loves you just the way you are.

God picked out your family just for you.

But what if you don’t look like all of the other children? You have brown skin, but they don’t. You have a twisted limb, but they don’t. You wear the same thing to church every Sunday, but they always have something new. Your mom gives you cereal for dinner, but they have a hot meal. Your dad is in jail, but theirs is playing ball with them in the backyard. Maybe that’s part of what “They are weak, but He is strong” is really all about.

It’s not always easy when you’re not one of “The Favorites,” but then there is a different kind of difficulty for those who are one of “The Favorites.” Maybe that’s a different kind of weak too.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that sometimes we may have to help people figure out God’s love is not like the things we see that may accompany human love. It’s too easy to be lured away by those things as nice and as wholesome as they are. Then maybe they will realize they have been receiving God’s love all along.

“It’s Not About God’s Wonderful Plan For Your Life”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.
Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” I know that for some people that will sound like blasphemy, like I’m denying a Biblical fact. But I’m not. (At least, I’m not trying to do so. I just want to clarify.)

If you are familiar with “The Four Spiritual Laws,” you will know that this is the First Spiritual Law. (Who doesn’t like laws? And especially laws that say you can have a wonderful life?) And honestly, I’ve used “The Four Spiritual Laws” to share the Gospel. But the more I see of life, the less I’m inclined to want to use the words “a wonderful plan.” I want better words that tell me what God wants, not what my imagination wants.

In some respects, “God has a wonderful plan for your life” sounds like a “sales pitch,” and I don’t think that would have worked very well in the early church when being a follower of Christ meant possible imprisonment, torture, and a horrible painful death. There are still places in the world where it can mean these same things. Let’s be honest. None of those gruesome things “sell.” It almost gives me the impression of being “false advertising.” This is particularly true when you look at the perfect “truth in advertising” Jesus provided.

People are probably going to “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:11 (NRSV)

And that’s just to start. Think about it. You have to tell yourself “No” and give up everything that’s all about you.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (NRSV)

Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “Yes, your Mommy is an addict who would do anything for drugs and your Daddy cooks meth in the garage, but God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Isn’t that a lot like saying, “Your parents are failures. They totally missed God’s wonderful plan for their lives.” It’s that a lot like separating a child from their only source of survival and hope for tomorrow? That’s scary.

Eventually the hurt child may even create an idea of “a wonderful plan for your life” far from the reality they experience growing up, a reality that only happens in “happily ever after.” That’s scary too, but for a different reason.

Maybe that’s why evangelism often fails with children who have grown up. (I say “children who have grown up” here because even as adults we still carry our childhood self with us.) We know that reality seldom matches what we imagined. Sometimes we do the same things our parents did, and hate ourselves and our lives all the more for it. Sometimes we experience things that feel far from being part of “a wonderful plan,” so we blame ourselves, feeling like somehow we’ve missed something.
Maybe we need to ditch our own made up imaginary “happily ever after wonderful plan for your life” ideas and see what God really offers.

In the end, I think the only guarantee we have is this.

“…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NRSV)

Jesus Himself. He alone is a wonderful plan for your life. Sadly, we may only discover this when all of our imaginary “happily ever after wonderful plan for my life” ideas have failed us.

So maybe the message should be “God has a wonderful plan for your life and it’s all about knowing Jesus”?

“It’s Not About Staying In Your Box”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.

It’s not always easy for me to choose words for pictures which carry so much meaning and emotion. The image of a child’s hand reaching out from that dark enclosed space through a small hole cut into a locked metal door is troubling. (I believe it was from a news story that I came across many months ago. It was about the imprisonment and forced labor of children in some country on the other side of the world.)

How can something like this be? What do you say to that child? What is the Gospel for that child? These questions create a feeling of helplessness in me. The only Bible verse that comes to mind is this.

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NASB)

But is that really what we would say? “Believe in Jesus. He will make you free.” And then walk away from that small hand reaching out for help. Does that seem as uncaring to you as it does to me? My heart cries out for immediate rescue. I do not like the idea of any child shut away in a box.

What if that image strikes our hearts so deeply because it is really a representation of what each life is like without the light of Christ? Then aren’t we all the same as that child with the desperate hand? If not physically the same, then certainly spiritually the same without God’s intervention? Perhaps that is why it touches the heart so deeply.

This week I found the other image to pair with it. There is a small hand in it too, except it is expressing desire, wonder, and amazement at all the bags of candy and treats available inside a glass display box. What if we are so focused on what we want for ourselves and become so blinded by our own desires that we are unable to see the desperation of others? Have we not then created our own dark box of imprisonment?

While I chose it as an opposite, the more I study the two together, the more similarities I see. The first shows imprisonment to the desires of someone else. The second shows imprisonment to the desires of oneself. But both show imprisonment. I am also now less sure of which life is better. The first makes me think of people who have said, “My life is like Hell, so can Real Hell be any worse?” The second makes me think of people who have said, “Yeah, I’ll end up in Hell, but at least I’ll have fun getting there!” These perspectives are troubling. It is as if we must be imprisoned, either to someone else’s desires or to our own desires, but in the end, the result is the same. We just may be fortunate enough to choose our box of imprisonment. That’s really all the hope there is.

There must be an alternative. What was it again that Jesus said?

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NASB)

Many of us have looked at our lives and said, “I do not know what else is out there, but it must be better than what is in here.” Even in the darkest cell created by others or created by ourselves, some light gets inside, and some hope remains.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5 (NRSV)

There are hearts shut away in boxes all around us. We don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to find them. It doesn’t matter whether they were put inside to fulfill someone else’s desires or by trying to fulfill their own desires. We are called to be His Light Bearers to every heart in every box. This is where inward attitudes and outward behaviors, I believe, come together to be the Body Of Christ.

“It’s Not About Changing God’s Mind”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.

You may like to read posts and articles where the author says, “Here is some new knowledge for you. This is the way things are.” This is not going to be one of those. It is just going to be mostly some “What if” statements as my way of thinking through some things. (You may have already figured these things out. I’m still working on them.)
What if we don’t look at the Cross of Christ as a “keeping law and order” kind of legal transaction?

I ask this because I’m thinking that whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “You have made God hate you, and God is going to make you pay for what you’ve done. Too bad you’re not like other children that God loves. You just wait.”

What if we stop thinking like this? “When you sin, God gets angry, the gun of execution is loaded and cocked. Somebody has got to die. It’s either going to be Jesus or you.”

I ask this because I’m thinking whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting child, “It’s a good thing that God had Jesus killed so that He can change His mind about you. It was either going to be Jesus or you.”

What if we start thinking like this? “God the Father never stopped loving humanity. Nor did He need to separate from, turn His back on, and kill God the Son to start loving humanity again.”

What if we stopped thinking of baptism as “an initiation ritual” and started living it out as “a spiritual reality”?

That truly seems to have been Paul’s perspective.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20 (NASB)

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 (NASB)

What if in God the Father’s eyes, He saw Jesus and you and me altogether on the Cross? What if in God the Father’s eyes, He saw Jesus and you and me altogether leaving the tomb? How do we live that out right here and now?

What if the good we now do is because we really have a new life in Christ rather than a guilty obligation? (It’s an obligation we feel because Jesus “took the bullets with our names on them”?)

What if after we say “Somebody has got to die,” we don’t say “It’s either going to be Jesus OR us”? What if instead we say “It’s ALREADY BEEN Jesus AND us”? How do we live that out right here and now?

“It’s Not About Prosperity Of Things”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus went about “preaching the gospel” and telling people to “believe the gospel.”

But what was that message? And what does it have to say to hurting children?

Why do I think “Seed Faith”and “The Prosperity Gospel” fail to represent the Gospel that Jesus preached? I think this partly because there are impoverished children in the world who have nothing, absolutely nothing to give to God or anyone else. No food. Not even a rag to cover their nakedness.

I believe that the Gospel that Jesus preached must be the same for anyone anywhere.

Whatever the Gospel is…it just can’t tell a hurting and impoverished child, “Once you know Jesus, give to Him and He will give back to you ten times as much, a hundred times as much, even a thousand times as much!”

There are children in the world who do have something, but the culture or society in which they live is not set up for material gain. They are only exchanging one scrap of spoiled food for another, one rag for another.

Whatever the Gospel is…it can’t tell an impoverished child, “Get prosperity! Give to God and He will give even more back to you! As soon as you get anything valuable put it in God’s bank and collect your reward!”

Eventually the impoverished child may begin to doubt that they know Jesus because they have nothing to give Him and no way of getting anything back in return.

Yet God can give each of us anywhere in the world, impoverished or not, seeds of kindness and goodness and peace that we can plant in the lives of other people and reap a harvest of those same things for ourselves.

Therein is found prosperity of heart.