Easter 365 Days a Year

Holidays are weird.

We say to ourselves, “Here’s a wondrous, momentous person or fact that has improved the lives of everyone around us, but…let’s only celebrate it once a year.”

Easter is a little different. We actually kinda celebrate it weekly, when we go to church. At least, that’s the hope. We hope our hearts are filled with reverence and joy as we sing all those songs acknowledging what God accomplished through the cross and the empty tomb.

But we all know once a week isn’t enough.

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. His grace does.

And when we obey him, we don’t do it to earn his grace, anymore than our setting off fireworks is what turns the Fourth of July into a holiday. It’s a holiday because of what already happened; we’re simply commemorating.

Instead, we obey in order to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).

Every time we obey, we celebrate the cross and the empty tomb. Easter is the one holiday we can and are commanded to celebrate 365 days a year, by surrendering our lives in obedience to God.

I pray Psalm 51:12 for us this week – “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

I’ve had to pray that for a long time just to get my apathetic heart to care. But the prayer worked. More each year, I find that much more joy in knowing that I have an entry in the Book of Life, that the gates are opened to me, far down the road it might be. Don’t just let life sap that joy.  Fight for it in prayer. Ask God to restore it.

Have a great Easter.

He Runs to Us

walkingIt’s funny – in reading your comments, I’ve seen many of you looking forward to this part of Luke 15 as much as I. We know it by heart. Reaching verse 20 is like arriving at your favorite line in The Empire Strikes Back or hitting that favorite song in your old Newsboys album. But better. Chills of delight. (And I’m talking the Newsboys good ol’ days – Entertaining Angels at the very latest.)

(While I’m at it, God, can’t we have just one more DC Talk album? Pretty please? Asked another voice in the throng, never to be satisfied…sigh…)

ANYWAY…

Part 1: Be Careful What You Ask For

Part 2: Sex Isn’t Making Anyone Happy

Part 3: All The Wrong Reasons?

Part 5: Goodies and Godliness

“So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

Oh.

Oh.

Tears tonight.

I need this.

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Not By Works: The Calling Card of Christ

cardI had a Muslim housemate a few years ago, a transfer student from (if I recall) Saudi Arabia. I got to sit down with him a couple times and hear about his life. He was discombobulated, a devout follower of Islam living in a Christian area. Hypercharged homesickness. I felt for him.

But that was nothing next to what I felt after hearing about his faith.

This guy had no idea whether his religion was “breaking through”. He practiced, as best he could, the Five Pillars of Islam and their attending rituals – a dizzying mass of minutiae including five daily prayers at proper times, even kneeling in a specific manner. Charity work. Fasting. He hadn’t yet made a Mecca pilgrimage, though he hoped to. But he admitted that all these observances were doing nothing to reassure him that God accepted his work. He was “flying blind”, as the saying goes.

I couldn’t help but think, “that’s an awful way to live.”

Then I read something today from a Catholic…: “If I take off my scapular prior to surgery and die on the operating table, will I still go to Heaven?” A scapular is a ceremonial apron that Catholics believe will grant you eternal life if worn at one’s death. I was like…good gravy! The sheer paranoia if such a talisman carried that kind of weight. Forget it in the morning and forget about heaven! I’m bad enough at remembering to pick the right shoes for the day.

You’re probably thinking, I’m glad we Christians don’t go there.

If only.

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Forgive Some Liberals Today

forgiveForgive some liberals today.

It might seem a little facetious to treat holding different political opinions as something that needs forgiving. But we can be bitter even towards someone who has done us no objective wrong, like a manager who turned you down for a much-needed job.

So I will say…forgive some liberals today.

Is that hard to hear?

It’s probably safe to say that liberals – the media, whiny celebrities, Portland protestors, entitled college students and their PC safe-space police, and the outgoing president you never really prayed for – are amongst the closest thing to real enemies we have in this country. At least, that is how they exist in our minds. Isn’t it? Forgiving them feels like sponsoring their mindset, yielding ground, or “letting them get away with something”. It feels, for lack of a better word, a little dangerous.

It isn’t.

And it’s a good thing, because Jesus doesn’t give us any exception clauses to the command to forgive. For he forgave us. There are a lot of decent people like you on the other side of the aisle who are disappointed this week. We’re supposed to be salt, not salt in the wound. Who’s “right” doesn’t matter. Godliness matters. (And it might even have power to win them over to our cause.)

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If God Could Change Saul, He Can Change Donald Trump

lightCongratulations, Mr. President-Elect. The odds have proven to be in your favor after all.

You all know that a few weeks ago I posted about my personal reluctance to vote for Donald Trump. I laid out my convictions as best I could; I made clear that we each had to do what we each thought was right. Well, we did, and here we are. (How I voted will remain private to me.) Yet I think I am still safe in saying that some of us retain concerns over Trump’s character. There remain unanswered questions.

So now our question is how a Christian responds to his election in the midst of this fog.

Well, we show respect befitting the office. Hence the formality to open my post. God told us to honor governments and officials, and if I’m going to talk of character, I have to follow God’s commandments about mine. We also remember that God is the only one who really knows where all this is going; he’s the one holding each man’s destiny. It was that thought that led me to think of the Apostle Paul. It was a reminder of HIS life that broke open my fog and revealed a staggering vista of the ocean of God’s grace, compelling me to break an earlier no-more-Trump-on-this-blog promise and write this post.

If God can change Saul, he can change Donald Trump.

This is serious business, folks.

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A Contentment Story that Won’t Stay in Vegas

You know the saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?”

Not this time. You’re hearing it.

Don’t worry, it’s not tawdry.

A couple years ago, I was acting as chaperone for a senior trip. My students had chosen Las Vegas for the destination, and despite their penchant for mischief, the week had gone well (i.e. nobody arrested or kicked out of the hotel). Perhaps it was just the desert heat sucking all the energy out of them; after all, they were northern kids. But whatever. They’d had fun, seen things they’d never seen before (water park, amusement park, strip, restaurants, taxi rides), and there we were at the Vegas airport ready to fly home. My trip leader’s only regret was that she hadn’t been able to see the “Old Strip”; apparently there was a former Strip before the current one we’ve all heard of.

But a problem struck. One of our students was not being allowed past airport security. Vegas TSA was apparently deciding that his ID wasn’t sufficient – even though Montana’s TSA had found no problem with it.

So one of our students was stuck in Vegas.

And since the student was male, and I was the only male chaperone on the trip, guess who had to stay with him?

This guy.

The trip leader handed me a benjamin and an apologetic grin. I had to escort an antsy, somewhat reckless 18-year-old back home, across the country, by bus. And to make things better, it was 7 in the morning and the next Greyhound north to Salt Lake City didn’t leave until 10:15pm.

Did I mention that I was already missing the wedding of two good friends – including a former student I’d mentored for four years – to go on this trip?

Sigh.

So the student and I grabbed a taxi to the city Greyhound station, plunked our butts firmly down in some highly uncomfortable seats, and settled in to wait. For 14 hours.

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God Gives Generously to All – Without Finding Fault???

handsSo I’m sitting in youth group yesterday, listening to someone recite James 1 from memory. It’s a well-done affair, with only an occasional reversion to cue cards. But one verse leaps out and trips me up, and it occurs to me that it’s always done so.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

Wait, whaaaat?

There’s a quick splash of non sequitur in there, the kind that makes you blink, jump back, and scan it again to make sure you read it right. As if you were reading this sentence and suddenly octopus. That’s how it feels.

God gives generously to all…without finding fault?

It’s the Bible, so it can’t be a typo (despite what the skeptics say). It must be telling it like it is. And the reason for my dissonance becomes clear all too quickly.

“Without finding fault”? I thought that’s all God ever does.

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