Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Love Wins


Reading 2 Samuel this morning I was struck by the first few words of Chapter 3 ...

"There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David." - 2 Samuel 3:1a ESV

Oh the divisions and wars we create against our brothers and sisters when we follow man and not God. I feel like we are just growing further apart in our social and political "civil wars".

We keep turning to our next savior with a human heart rather than to God.

After further reflection, I was struck by the frequent question (or comment) I hear from those outside our faith (or any faith for that matter) that a topic like this seems to bring up:

          Religion [or often said to me as Christianity] is to blame for all these wars anyway ... 

To be clear, the wars over the years blamed "by religion" are not biblical Christianity.

Yes, God was building a nation - and it was no surprise that some opposed that. Yes, there were times He commanded them to fight and battle - some to unsettling ends - though often against societies that performed horrific actions (i.e. sacrificing their babies and burning them alive for personal gain).

However, casual war and crusades twisted into forcing a belief system not by choice on others are not God's idea; that was man's. Even some of the battles described in the bible were never God ordained, and are there to show us examples of what happens when men follow men and not God.

Make no mistake, a dividing line in the sand has been drawn by Christ ... but not a dividing line with guns and signs and angry mobs ... a dividing line with respect to our hearts - choice - submission.

Yes, Biblical Christianity comes with a Truth that many do not like - but "liking" what Christianity stands for is your call. Just do not mistake God's message of a hard Truth with how man can represent that at times in wrongful ways ... it was, is, and always will be wrapped in Love, Grace, Peace, and Forgiveness - not malice, hatred, violence, or even apathy.

I don't expect to unpack in a few paragraphs what actual study and loving conversations over a cup of coffee can bring. I know there are other questions, and I'm not naive enough to think that I just answered even one. Though it would also be naive to base the character of God on man ... and not God ... !

So if we need blame, it's man's actions, not God's - but none of that changes who God is and what message He brings. The Scriptures reveal that, the Holy Spirit reveals that to believers, and even Jesus Christ Himself revealed that when He came ...

So what do I take away from this?

#LoveWins ... Truth wrapped in Love is my call ... not pride wrapped in arguments ...

His,
~Matthew

Prayer Requests: I have health goals (both physical and Spiritual) - pray that I can just take one choice at a time and choose well, and by so honor Him.
Praise: Thankful for a beautiful dance weekend! The show was wonderful, seeds were planted, and I continue to love the arts!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Untwisting ...

Roman Pantheon, now the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres
My wife and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to Italy last year. While most of the time was spent in northern Tuscany (... *pauses as wonderful memories start flooding back*...) we did have some time in Rome, and as you may know if having visited, the history there is just palpable ...

This image of the Pantheon is a great reminder to me on the topic and calling of Untwisting. You see, for years the Pantheon was a pagan temple. Yet in 609 A.D. it was converted to a church, and is known today as the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres (Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs).

While we can debate on specifics - something that was once used against God and promoted idolatry, is now a symbol of God ... a symbol that stands to almost speak victory in reclaiming something good from something that was evil.

God made good things

     ... even in His story of creation we see over and over again that "it was good".

However not far after that, things changed, and man twisted what was good into something less than ... and sometimes things truly evil. However as Christians I think it is our calling to untwist these things in our minds, and see the good, the message, the warning, and possibly even reclaim territory for God.

I think that is what you see often in my writings and reflections; an application of His Word in the everyday circumstances of life. These circumstances may not be good in and of themselves, but they may reveal something, tell a story, or share a lesson for us today ...

Isn't that what we all should do? Seek God in all we do, see, and hear?

So a few days ago I was listening to my son tell me a story about his gaming adventures. He recently pre-ordered a game I saw him playing (a demo of) a few days earlier. What surprised me was that this game was something he was struggling to do well in. Often losing, trying to figure out how to use controls or use strategy against other players ... so why buy the game? Well, what I didn't know is that he eventually started winning, and winning a lot ...

This started a conversation about how I struggle to play against some players online, as they are so much more advanced, and they just continue to beat me until I give up and get frustrated. That's why I usually enjoy the solo games where I can just play against the computer. I can even set difficulty levels! He used this example to tell me that is precisely why he plays against real players:

"I don't want to go up against AI (artificial intelligence / computer) players, I want to go up against real people, get beat up, destroyed, and then learn from them. Learn how to play better, learn different strategies, learn what works. Now that game that I was losing, I'm winning tournaments, and winning a lot!"

     Do you see where I'm about to go here?!

How often do we take the easy strategy to our Christian life? The safe way?

We try to adjust the difficulty level on our game of life so that we can be as comfortable as we possibly can, while maintaining an image of a kingdom builder.

Sure we know trials come - but when we are not under fire, are we just enjoying our couch time?

Or ... do we want to hit it full on? Go up against the resistance directly (which as my pastor states, is often a clue that you may be at the dead center of God's Will for your life).

Do we want to learn by failing, or think we are winners by picking our own battles, our own path, our own methods, our own strategies ...

' For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.' - Isaiah 55:8-9

Maybe there are things we need to untwist in our life - maybe there are lessons staring at us in the face. Maybe we need to get out of the comfortable path and hit things dead on.  Maybe we think we are winning and getting better, when in actuality, we are just losing our edge ...

Maybe there is an adventure we are missing ...

Game on?

His,
~Matthew

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ear me out ...



The ear is a strange thing ... not just because the more that I stare at a picture of my ear, I think it strange (although this is now true!), it's just ... different ...

Much like our eyes, our ears drive us in different directions. What we listen to, how we listen, who we listen to ...

'For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ' - 2 Timothy 4:3-4

With so much noise in the world ... so much pressure ... so many directions ... and sadly so much pride ... we can easily be taken off course by connecting our ear to our heart, not His ... our will, not His ..

Yet the word speaks more than metaphorically about our ear, and hearing ...

'But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. ' - James 1:22

We love to listen to a good sermon don't we?

"What a great message!"

          "Wow, that was convicting!"

                    "I'm going to listen to that again!"

... but that's where it stops.

     Life hits, kids cry, work calls, dishwasher breaks, and the bills arrive in the mail ...

Yet I won't even stop there for today ... because the Word continues to speak about this strange thing we call the ear in yet another way ...

'Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; ' - James 1:19

Wait a minute? You mean it's not quick to speak and quick to get angry?!

     But did you hear what they said about vaccinations? - They're idiots ...
     But did you hear what they said about their political party? - They're idiots ...
     But did you hear what they said about gun control? - They're idiots ...
     But did you hear what they said about education? - They're idiots ...
     But did you hear what they said about their religion? - They're idiots ... 
     But did you hear what they said about evolution? - They're idiots ...
    But did you hear what they said about my mom? - They're ... yeah ... had to throw in a yo mama ... 

'Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. ' - 2 Timothy 2:23

Why do we feed into this so much?

Don't get me wrong - there is an absolute truth - the universe would not function without it. Or as so simply put by S. D. Smith in his book The Green Ember below ...

The Green Ember - great book by S. D. Smith

However, I've just learned one thing throughout my 41 years thus far ... as a husband ... as a parent ... as a friend ... as a coworker ...

               Listen

The best way to share the love of Christ sometimes is to not share anything at all ... but an ear.

Do you know how set apart you will be by being a good listener? Not just hearing ... but listening ... and tuning your heart to actually take it in, and actually care. People will come to you to talk knowing that you actually care and are open to listening. We can learn, grow, empathize, and through that trust, share who we are in Him ... it's such a beautiful design, and so often we get it backwards as if we need to be heard first ... or most ...

Challenge: Take some time and listen to someone over the course of the next week ... intentionally refrain from all the amazing things that you can offer them with your wisdom. Just listen ... truly listen ... care about what you are hearing ... I'm not asking you to agree with them (that is ridiculous to ask), and it may not even be biblical, but just hear them out ... just .... listen ... see how it works out ... and as with many other ministries (and I think listening can be a ministry itself!) you will find that you don't bless the one you are listening to as much as they and God are blessing you through that process ...

What if we did such an amazing job of listening ... and then such an amazing job of bringing what we heard to to the Lord in prayer before responding? Imagine that ...

God is listening to them ... God cares about them ... are we?

His,
~Matthew

Prayer Requests: Continued perseverance in this call that has been placed on my heart as the ministry starts to take shape (more details when I am able to write about it to come) ... just pray ... I'm excited and nervous all at the same time. Just a small little way to advance His Kingdom.

Praise: Praise that while dancer I spoke about in a previous blog was injured, it seems to be just a severe sprain. His contribution to the production will not be full, but not eliminated either - and certainly nothing that would risk his future dancing - praise God.
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