Standing with the Accused

The world is full of less than perfect people trying to figure out how to best cope with the imperfections in the world all around. When we all approach situations we have to make serious decisions about whether or not go one way or another. Some decisions made are right, some are wrong, and still others are ambiguous. The world is full of people doing wrong or regrettable things. At the same time there is a crowd waiting to pounce, waiting to tear the people apart that don’t have the power to hurt them back.

We live in a world where the powerful do wrong, and then when caught in the act they shrug it off because very often the people that accuse have no power over them, and no ability to enact change in their lives. When this happens we cry and yell about the injustice of the act and that something needs to happen to upend the power structures. In politics, this often turns into the imbalance of the power structures that lead to divisiveness that our political systems thrive upon these days. Power makes you think you can get away with anything, and if that power is not checked you become more bold in doing wrong things. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and any number of tech companies have all been caught in the same traps, that people will follow you and use your product, no matter what you do, because the followers or users feel powerless against the powerful companies doing things that are detrimental with their data, with their privacy, and with their loyalty. In this environment, we feel about power and wrong-doing, when we find wrong-doing that we can affect change upon we pounce.

Unfortunately, this leads to the mob mentality that wants to burn the house down of those caught in the act. You have no power to do anything to me, therefore I will destroy you. This has happened too many times in our society, especially in the social media age. One person gets accused of something, and then their social media accounts get published on the internet, and sometime worse their physical addresses get broadcast, and then the physical safety of the person standing accused is put in danger. The mob justifies the actions based on the accused gave up their freedom when they did wrong, but this justification is truly toothless. Rather, it is just an excuse to get release and try to establish justice in a world that is often devoid of justice, but this justice is not truly justice. Justice is essentially life giving, but the actions of the mob are truly destructive.

Jesus, in John 8, shows us a better way. Here a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the mob is seeking to destroy her and make her pay the price for her misgivings. However, Jesus doesn’t simply allow the mob carry out their intended action, but rather he makes them contemplate and asks if they have no sin then carry on, but if not then drop the stones. He doesn’t do this to point out their sin, but rather to stand in between the woman and the angry mob. Obviously, the only reason they pulled this woman out was that she could do nothing to defend herself, where was the man? Adultery takes at least two, but the man probably had too much power, too much voice to bring out into the light, therefore the justice they wanted to carry out was incomplete and destructive.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people in our world that are willing to pull the woman out for public scorn, but unwilling to stand up to the mob. Jesus calls us to stand with the woman, and to stand with the accused, even if they have done something wrong, even if they are guilty. There is no chance for reformation, and no chance for shalom if the person is destroyed and stoned and broken, and Jesus came to bring shalom not shame, He came to bring love, and not blame, and we are all invited to join in the Kingdom of God to defend the defenseless.

One last aspect of this is that we encourage those to go and sin no more, and it is vital that we do this. We need to do whatever we can, in order to help them carry this out, but if the mob wins, they do nothing but carry with them the Scarlett Letter and are not granted grace, but surrounded by scorn and ridicule that leads them to feel and know that it doesn’t matter if they turn their lives around, they will always be that of which they are accused. We want to defeat and enjoy the grace that God gives us, and share it with everyone, especially the accused.

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Making Resolutions…

Today I turn another year older, and every year I get older, and older, and older. I apologize to my parents, because I am sure that statement really makes them feel older, but really, I remember when my parents were my age and I thought they were old at that time. So I guess that my kids probably think that I am really old. Although I woke up this morning, and did not think of myself as old, as I got up and ran 8 miles, something I definitely would not have done ten years ago. Although, I probably needed it more ten years ago than I needed it today. However, I think that today as I turn thirty-five I am an adult, not old, but an adult, and I am viewed by the world as an adult, and my wife has been reminding me that I am middle aged now.

This prompts the question, what now? Something I regularly do on my birthday is set goals for the following year. Most people make New Year’s resolutions, but since my birthday is only a few days into the New Year, I get a few days to prepare myself for “the new and improved” version of myself. As I read an article about “How Life Won’t Begin At Your Next Milestone” on Relevant I brought this practice under scrutiny. While this didn’t directly address the making of resolutions, it does point out that we aren’t supposed to wait to make good changes in our lives, because by waiting until this milestone or that milestone to really live, or grow up, we often miss the life happening all around us.

I have certainly been guilty of looking forward without looking at now. Tomorrow things will be better, right? Why wait until tomorrow to make the change you need in your life today? When I first joined a gym it was a January, and I stuck to regularly going to the gym for less than three months after that. However, when I first became intentional about getting myself in better shape, it was an August, and as I stated in a previous post I have made that life change permanent as of this moment.  So why wait?
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I used to think that I have given myself the leg up by postponing my resolution timetable by eleven days, because most people fail at their resolutions within the first month, but in reality I have just procrastinated an extra eleven days at working to become the man God desires me to be. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value at taking inventory of our life and looking at the things that we need to do more of, or less than, and things we need to quit, or start, but once we take that inventory, we should start right away. Don’t put off until tomorrow, the things that God is calling you to do today.

There is hope in this for all of us. Some of us have already lapsed in our resolutions we have made for the New Year, and most of will fail at some point, but the good news is that it doesn’t mean we have to give up and wait for another year to make that resolution again, we have the power and the call to make that change RIGHT NOW. Maybe this post comes too early in the year for many, as there are a good number of resolutions being held onto, but come back to this in a month, or two, or more, and remember that failure is only a temporary setback, and that change happens one step at a time.

This process of making ourselves into the people God desires us to be is the process of sanctification. While we have been redeemed by a magical, mysterious, miraculous, and magnificent event with Christ, our sanctification takes our whole lives to achieve. So do not be distraught by missed resolutions, but rather pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue along the path toward the Lord’s sanctifying grace. One thing though… Don’t wait, do it today. Embrace God’s grace in your life now, and make the change today.

3:46:00

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This past summer I ran my fastest marathon in three hours, forty-six minutes, and no seconds. Although this time is not terribly fast by the standards of marathon running, although it was much faster than I could imagine I could run a marathon even a year ago. In Jr. High and in High School I was an athlete, but when in college, I realized I didn’t want to pursue athletics any longer, for many reasons that are not important, I quickly lost the athlete within. I covered him up with sloth, with gluttony, with self-destructive habits, and just letting myself go.

In early 2009, I realized that these habits were going to lead to my ultimate demise. I wasn’t going to be around when my son was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to be able to participate and play with him as he got older. At nearly 350 lbs I was on track toward a shortened life span, and maybe not seeing my son grow up. I decided to begin an exercise regiment. This wasn’t huge, I walked slowly on a treadmill for an hour three times a week, and I jumped in a pool and swam once a week. I also learned portion control, one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, no more “Taco Bell Fourth Meal”. In the midst of this first step, I began losing weight, within six months 50 pounds, and 80 lbs were off by Christmas 2009. There was no magic diet, I ate less, and I exercised more.

Have you noticed the pattern? Have you realized my error? I, I, I, I, I, and I. I am taking the credit for all this hard work. Certainly, I did the work, but it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that I was prompted, I merely answered the call. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was transformed, not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically. I was broken, and I needed fixing. God took hold of me, and shook me.

This shook me straight into a crazy thought, I should run a marathon! I set my sights on the next LA Marathon. My sister encouraged me to run at least a half-marathon before that, so we ran in the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. I completed that race in just over two hours, and was able to set a goal for the marathon of five hours. I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and felt as if I was ready to take on 26.2 miles. That was 2011, and a legendary rain filled LA Marathon struck. Shortly into the race, my focus shifted from my goal of five hours to finishing the race. Every joint hurt, my legs were tight, and I started counting down the miles or fractions thereof. All the hard work led to pain, and I was barely able to keep my legs going. After 5 hours and 17 minutes, I crossed the finish line, bruised, battered, and barely walking. (As a thank you, the LA Marathon team gave us the opportunity to walk an additional mile so that we could get our gear.)

I accomplished something, I finished the ridiculous distance, and I was not beaten by the weather. I was proud that I accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people have accomplished, but my feat was not impressive. I was still far from what I could be, and far from what I was before the stench of sloth covered over body. I kept running more and more and my next race was a two hour half marathon later in the year. After that race my daughter was born and the training took a brief hiatus, but when I restarted I set my sights on another marathon, this one the 2012 Santa Clarita Marathon. I followed a strict training regiment and figured I would improve upon the five hour marathon and set my goal to run it in four and a half hours. However, half way into the race I realized that I was in much better shape and was most likely going to beat the goal I set for myself, and I was on pace to run a four hour marathon. I eventually finished the race in just over four hours as I slowed down at mile 24, but this was a huge win for my psyche.

First I worked hard to lose weight, then I worked hard to get myself into better shape, however it was all worthless compared to the riches I have in Christ. However, the way that I have worked on losing weight, and running faster only serve to show that I am constantly being refined and made better by the work of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. So I sit here tonight, having accomplished running a marathon in three hours and forty-six minutes, and having lost more than 150 pounds, but God is still working on me. Not to lose more weight, and maybe not to even run any faster, but God is working to refine me, and make me more into the man that God desires, a man after God’s own heart.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

God isn’t finished with us. I have a marker and a path I have followed, and although I took the steps toward where I am today, God is the one that worked on me, and has brought me on this path toward holiness and sanctification. I pray that as I continue in this path toward a deeper relationship with God, that I can be faithful to God’s call. Praise be to God.

2013 will bring trials of all sorts, but…

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This New Year will not be perfectly harmonious, I know that may not be the most clairvoyant statement, but it is one that we should take to heart as we look into the new year. For many of us it has already presented its first trial or two. Some of these trials are unavoidable, some we create ourselves; some will be big, some will be small; some will make us feel like giving up, some will make us want to dig in our heels and fight. For each trial we have options and directions that we can go, but whatever we face, there is always hope.

The bible is full of passages about trials of all sorts. David faced many trials. Some of them he caused himself, some he couldn’t avoid, but in the face of every trial he turned to the face of God. I admire that about David.

David, by no fault of his own, but powered by jealousy, was pursued by Saul. Each of these times David asked for God to deliver him. He did not betray the blessing of God as he would not take matters into his own hands by killing Saul, as he had opportunity to do so, but rather he leaned upon God to take care of him. He wrote about it, he sang songs about God’s blessing.

Even in his darkest hour, as he transgressed God’s commandments and committed adultery, and then covered up his adultery by committing murder (2 Sam 11), when the prophet confronts him he repents. This repentance didn’t help avoid the death of his child, it didn’t help avoid the loss of power to his son, but it got him back in right relation with God. To David, his relationship with God was paramount, not all of his earthly possessions.

2013 is here, and we will face challenges of all sorts, but if we try to emulate King David in his earnest pursuit of the heart and mind of the Almighty God, then these trials may make us into better followers of God, and more equipped to face trials of all sorts. That is my prayer, “May I learn to be more like David leaning upon You more and my own understanding less, may I sing to You God in good times and in times of need. Help me, fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I may be completely yours, and help me to remain yours no matter what trials I may face.” Amen.

Black Friday?

Today there were sales. Today we were all supposed to go out and buy in order to help make sure that people stay employed. Today a lot of money, energy, and other resources were wasted.

Life has conditioned us that we instinctively look in the newspaper on Thursday to find out what big screen television we have to get. Look, even my nine month old daughter thinks that she has to get in on Black Friday.

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The whole concept that we must go out and support the consumer culture is terribly flawed. I wish I were immune from the draw toward the mall and to the stores in search for a couple deals. Unfortunately, I was out there with many of you, and I engaged in our consumer culture and spent resources.

I will not spend time reciting the numerous statistics I saw throughout social media today about the amount of money that is spent this weekend, and the amount of money that is needed to end any number of ailments in the world. It is appalling that so much money is spent on things that are of little to no worth. Last year I hit that point with my kids, we spent and spent and spent, and filled up two car loads of toys for them last year. How many hours were spent by them playing with these toys? Not enough. How much joy did they get out of these gifts? Not enough. How much money did we spend so that they could have a “good” Christmas experience and get lots of toys? Too much.

I don’t think that you are a terrible sinner because you went shopping today. We are all terrible sinners because we give our allegiance to things instead of God. I cannot change your heart, I cannot even change my own heart, but I pray that we allow the Holy Spirit to come in and make our hearts a little less “black” this holiday season, and may we remember that God calls us to give all of our hearts, minds, and souls to the Almighty.

“Thank you Lord for giving us the will to hand over our power to spend to You, so that You may make a difference beyond what we could expect or even imagine.” Amen

Old Familiar Friends and Places


Today and tomorrow are going to be filled with reunions and gatherings throughout the US as the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. For many of us it is a chance to connect with family and friends, and connect back to old places where we have memories both good and bad. Holidays themselves all a call to remember what has happened and to commemorate and/or celebrate something, some one, or some event. For this reason, we see people either looking forward to or dreading this time of year because we cannot escape the signs of the season, and they seem to begin their invasion of our offices, cafes, stores, and neighborhoods earlier each year.

This is also a time of year that we are confronted by the fact that our lives are not static as people are continuously coming into our lives, and leaving our lives. While we may not have to deal with the ebb and flow of people on an everyday basis, it unavoidably confronts us during these gatherings. In some ways this is exciting, like if a new member of the family has been added, such as the birth of a child, (this is my sweet Sophia’s first thanksgiving) or a new marriage. However, some people dread these times, maybe there has been a death, or a divorce, but there is clearly an absence that cannot be ignored.

During this time, we need to remember that no matter the people that come into our lives or leave our lives, God is constant. Take time out of your day today or tomorrow and look at the things that surround us and allow them to be our altars where we remember that God has been with us. The picture above is of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus, which reminds me that God is always beside me, even when it gets very dark and I have trouble finding hope. The people of Israel, as they crossed the Jordan, grabbed stones from the dry river bed and placed them on the banks of the Jordan to remind themselves and future generations that God had been there to allow them to enter into the promised land. The history of Israel had many ups and downs, but God never left them, and no matter what, the stones were there to remind them that it was God who led them into the promised land.

I have so many friends that each time we connect I am reminded that God loves me, and that it has been by His grace and mercy that our relationships have grown and flourished even though time, distance, and life have created space between us. So for those of you who I have not seen in a while, I thank God because of you, I thank God that our lives have crossed paths, and I thank God that because of our relationship I have become better than I was before we met.

So to my old familiar friends and places, I am thankful for you!

Struggle and Structure

Looking through the Psalms we see that Israel and David are often ensnared in struggles against their enemies and against themselves. Sometimes we become our own worst enemy. I know I took the picture below before a game I attended during warmups, but when a team’s season begins to unravel the team often fights against itself. This causes the team to lose more games than they should. We also tend to underperform when we start unraveling. One bad decision leads to another, and this builds upon itself.

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We are creatures that desire structure and consistency. We don’t trust ourselves to operate according to God’s purpose without structure. We have organized ourselves into organizations and churches that we hope will provide us the structure/ theology/ preaching/ group dynamic that we need to keep us within God’s desire for our lives.

The structures we put in place to define our situation, and to make sense of the world we live in often betray us, and take away the freedom that we have been given. Sometimes these structures do not allow us to worship God in a variety of forms, they do not give us the freedom to seek God, to question the things that will help us grow in our faith. In some of these circumstances, we abandon and strike out against what we see as oppression, only to exchange it for another form of oppression. In these cases we either vilify or deify the structure.

All this being said, structure is not bad, but we must be free to challenge the structure at times, when we have come across a situation where structure becomes oppressive, but we also need to be willing to be wrong, and allow the structure to show us where we may be wrong. Understandably, this takes maturity that not all of us may have, but should develop in our relationship with God. This is part of the struggle that we cannot escape or hide from within our structures.

Our God needs to be God, for only God can pull us out from our struggles, and the closer we grow to God the more mature we become in our faith, and the better we are within the structures within which we are organized. Struggle happens, and when it does, let God be our God.