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Monthly Archives: September 2009

Blame and Mercy.

Within the church, we are often drawn to look at the sins of our brothers and sisters instead of examining yourself. We do this very well by disguising gossip with prayer. For instance, “have you heard about Joe cheating on his wife? We should pray for him.” Well Hosea 4:4 says “Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame! Look, you priests, my complaint is with you.” I am not a priest but God’s complaint is with me when I embrace my sinful nature. I am coming clean and saying that there are times when I enjoy the wrong decisions. Whether it is gossip, cursing, living in this world, drinking too much, or lusting; there are times when I find enjoyment and comfort in it. That is not okay. When I ask for prayer do not say “That’s okay, we have all been there.” No, kid me in the butt and tell me to STOP SINNING.

I’m out.

Four verses stood out to me in these chapters:

Daniel 10:12b “Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before God, your request has been heard from heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. ”

Daniel 11:2a “Now then, I will reveal the truth to you.”

Daniel 11:32b “But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him”

Daniel 12:10a “Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials.”

The message? Pray and the truth will be presented.  The truth will set you free. It will make you strong. It will be the refining fire in your life.

With no verbosity, the truth.

Daniel 3:6 “Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s reponse: “So what, we have God” (Paraphased)

The message that I got from this passage of scripture is that forced obedience does not compare to personal, committed sacrifice through obedience. This potrayal mirrors the debate between Islam and Christianity. The birth of Islam was through forced following, where disciples of Mohammad threatened people to adopt their practices or be killed. The AD years of Christianity were characterized by oppression; ie, followers were laying down their lives for the Gospel. Both involve the threat of death but I would rather be on the side of dying for my faith.

The other point that I would like to highlight from these chapters is Daniel 4:27 “Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past by being merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.”

This is not a complex message. STOP SINNING! It doesn’t say gradual decrease bad habit. It says cold-turkey, just stop it. Here’s a link to a MadTV “therapy” session. As a counselor, this is just for comedy and should not be taken as offensive. Underneath the comedy, the message “STOP IT” shines.

A short but great book.

I love in Joel 2:13, the LORD says, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”

So often, we offer superficial committments to Christ, as if that will satisfy him for the time being.  Whether we do this out of laziness, fear, selfishness, etc, Christ is not duped.

He wants the real deal…he wants our hearts, not just the shell.

A very literal example in my life is my persistent ‘need’ to get rid of clothes.  I have too many clothes; others not enough.  It is a practical way for me to get rid of junk, make more room for myself, help those in need, and all the while, feel good about myself.  That’s not the intent, but I think subconsciously at times it is.  I think to myself or to God, “Wow, look at all the stuff I’m willing to give up for YOU.”

His response is always, “Matthew, rend your heart and not your garments.”

Dang.

“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and beak up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.” -Hosea 10:12

There are areas of my life that I have not sewn with righteousness.  There is unplowed ground, parts of my life that I have not submitted to Christ.  These are the parts of my life that I ask God to heal, yet grip tightly for fear of losing control or losing the enjoyment of sin that results from that unplowed ground.

For me, trusting in Christ to provide for my future is a huge piece of my heart unplowed.  From job to woman, I lack the faith that he has an amazing plan.  I am crippled by these area and am afraid I will just continue treading water and not go anywhere.

What areas of your life are unplowed?  How do we help each other sow that righteousness and break that ground with Christ?

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” -God

So often, I go to God in prayer essentially to barter.  “God, I will stop doing ___ or give up this ___, if you will protect me from ___or provide me with ___ & _____.”

I think we have all prayed a similar prayer in one way or another.  We offer these sacrifices in exchange for God’s blessings.  And yet our father does something so revolutionary.  Instead of asking for our sacrifices and engaging in our bartering, he simply tells us to show mercy.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. -Matthew 5:7

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  -Luke 6:36

By being merciful, we are recognizing God as the source of all life and love.  We show mercy to a neighbor who has wronged us and do it in the name of the father.  Mercy is not a quality of this world.  A lion doesn’t chase down a gazelle, tackle it, then growl and say, “Ehh, nevermind, I won’t eat you…get on your way.”  When we are merciful, we are putting ourselves aside and allowing God’s image to be visible to the one being shown mercy.

That is, if we show true mercy.  Sometimes we forgive and show mercy, but expect something in return.  “I’ll forgive you this time, but if I upset you next week, you can’t get mad because I let this thing go this week.”

May we learn to stop trying to barter our sacrifices with God and learn to cultivate the fruit of mercy.

“We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”  -Daniel 9:18

Even prayer is a gift as a result of God’s mercy.  We take prayer for granted way to often.  We think of it as a rubbing the magic lamp and expect a bushy eyebrowed, blue hued genie with the comedic voice of Robin Williams…ready to answer our wishes.

Instead, prayer is us falling prostrate before the throne of the King of Kings.  I am reminded of the story in 2 Samuel 9 of Mephibosheth and King David.  Mephibosheth was a descendant of Saul (David’s enemy) and Jonathan (David’s best-friend…or as they say on the streetz…his homey).  Another thing to remember about Mephibosheth is that he was crippled in both feet.  David decided to give all of Saul’s inheritance to Mephibosheth as a way to show kindness for the descendants of Jonathan.

In that day (and unfortunately, possibly today as well), Mephibosheth would have been an outcast.  Crippled, he was considered rather useless.  Yet, David invites him into his palace, hands over all this land and inheritance, then invites Mephibosheth to dine with him everyday as if he were a son of the king.

May we, in prayer and attitude of heart, approach the throne of God saying like Mephibosheth, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

*NOTE:  I wrote this post and then realized that there are a lot of entries from Stuff Christians Like that add to this discussion.  So, I have included many hyperlinks spread throughout this post and I encourage you to click on each link when you get to it.*

We are always seeking to be relevant.  Churches adjust their worship services to reflect the trends in pop culture, some of us Christians use the occasional swear word to maintain our exciting testimony and edgy, Christian status and to maintain an “ability” to reach out to those that aren’t in the Christian bubble (uptight, blinded, self-righteous), we pretend like we have it all together because Heaven forbid non-believers see a Christian struggling, and our nation keeps feeding us the ideas that we need things like sex, power, money, reputation, material-stuff, comfort.  With all this said, Jesus is the perfect example of how to be irrelevant…that one can live in the world, but not be of the world.

Daniel was another great example.  Daniel rose to great power.  He could have done so by abandoning God’s truth.  He could have told Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar that they were going to live long and prosper.  Instead he chose to speak God’s truth even at the risk of losing his life.  He could have even spoken God’s truth about the dream Nebby (my nickname for Nebuchadnezzar) had, but then taken the credit for himself…Yet, in Daniel 2:27 he says, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”

When King Belshazzar offers Daniel purple clothing and a gold chain (ancient bling) for reading the writing on the wall, Daniel says, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else.  Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.” (Daniel 5:17).  Daniel could have profited off of God, but again, refused the credit and spoils for himself.

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all refused to blend in with the Babylonian culture and continued to worship the one true God, at all costs.

To me, this is no easy task.  We are annointed and set apart and yet we are looking more and more like everyone else.  What does it look like for us Christians in America to worship Jesus whole heartedly and yet still reach those around us?

We need to stop sugar-coating the Gospel, stop worrying about ruining friendships, stop seeking innovative evangelism tools, take it easy on the number of ministries, and stop worrrying about creating effective methods of injecting Christ into people and just be still and know that He is God.  The rest will come naturally.  His love and laws will be written on our heart and his message of hope, a fire shut up in our bones, that we will be unable to contain the the good news.

Obviously, I believe that relevance in sharing the Gospel is tricky.  It is difficult to simply use the Bible to preach to unbelievers who don’t consider the Bible to be accurate, absolute truth.  Jesus used stories about farming and fishing to share the Good News with who?…farmers and fishers!  But something to consider is Christ did not water down his message…he did not fight the wars of this world with the weapons of this world.

I share the Gospel less and less in my relationships and for that I am ashamed.  In San Francisco, a kid from the youth group I was working with came back and was telling me a story about a homeless man he had met on the street that afternoon. The following is a rough sketch of my conversation with the kid.

Kid: “Oh man! This guy we met, his name was John.  He was so cool.  He talked a lot too!  We kept trying to ask him if he needed help and if we could buy him anything, but he wasn’t really listening to us….he just kept talking and talking.”

Me: “Oh ok, well what was he going on and on about?”

Kid: “He was so excited to tell us about his dad!”

Me: ***speechless***ready to cry***humbled***

Here this guy was, aching to tell the world about how great his dad was.  My prayer is for us to have that same fervor and abandonment of anything else, to tell the world about our DAD…our Father in Heaven.