Steak Bites & Bacon Bits

Bite-sized Thoughts on Scripture

Lent Day 3: Jesus Facepalm

The next day the large crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. So they took branches from palm trees and went out to meet him. They shouted, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118:25,26) “Blessed is the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it. This is just as it is written in Scripture. It says,

“City of Zion, do not be afraid.

See, your king is coming.

He is sitting on a donkey’s colt.” (Zechariah 9:9)

At first, Jesus’ disciples did not understand all this. They realized it only after he had received glory. Then they realized that these things had been written about him. They realized that the people had done these things to him.

A crowd had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead. So they continued to tell everyone about what had happened. Many people went out to meet him. They had heard that he had done this miraculous sign.

So the Pharisees said to one another, “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Look how the whole world is following him!” – John 12:12-19

I am convinced that Jesus’ disciples – the 12 men who were His closest friends and followers – spent the majority of their time being perplexed by Him. (In fact, as we saw from yesterday’s passage, it was those outside His “inner circle”  who seemed to have the clearest picture of who He was. Mary worshipped at His feet while they bickered on…) John again writes today’s passage, and he doesn’t seem to shy away from this fact…

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem toward His death, the people worshipped Him. And John admits that he and his friends did not quite understand what was happening. It was only after Jesus died and came back to life that the guys did a giant facepalm.

“Ohhhh! All that stuff that happened to Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament!” [Of course, they didn’t call it the Old Testament. There was no “Bible” then, just the Jewish writings that were later put into the Bible.] “We should have known!”

Can you follow Jesus without fully understanding everything about him? Ask John, who admitted in writing to it. Ask Peter, who denied Him. Ask all the disciples, who huddled in a secret hideout like cowards after Jesus died. I think they’d say yes.

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Lent Day 2: Did It Fall From The Sky?

It was six days before the Passover Feast. Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived. Lazarus was the one Jesus had raised from the dead. A dinner was given at Bethany to honor Jesus. Martha served the food. Lazarus was among those at the table with Jesus.

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard. It was an expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the sweet smell of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot didn’t like what Mary did. He was one of Jesus’ disciples. Later he was going to hand Jesus over to his enemies. Judas said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold? Why wasn’t the money given to poor people? It was worth a year’s pay.”

He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor. He said it because he was a thief. Judas was in charge of the money bag. He used to help himself to what was in it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “The perfume was meant for the day I am buried. You will always have the poor among you. But you won’t always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there, so they came. But they did not come only because of Jesus. They also came to see Lazarus. After all, Jesus had raised him from the dead.

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too. Because of Lazarus, many of the Jews were starting to follow Jesus. They were putting their faith in him. – John 12:1-11

I personally think we do the Bible a great disservice when we act like it just fell out of the sky one day (bounded in beautiful leather, no doubt) with a note that said, “- From God”.

The Bible didn’t create Christianity. Jesus created Christianity. (It’s not called “Bibleianity”, after all). The people who witnessed the events of Jesus’ life cared enough to document it. They were real people with real emotions. And they had no New Testament to explain to them what was happening.

Take John, who wrote the above passage. He was a close friend and follower of Jesus. He remembered the scent of Mary’s perfume as she poured it on Jesus’ feet. He saw his fellow disciple, Judas, completely freak out over the perfume being “wasted”. He even knew Judas was a thief – he must’ve caught him more than once with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar!

He also saw Jesus raise a dead man back to life. And other people did too. And John began to see a sharp division happening. Many started to follow Jesus. But John also heard the angry murmurs of the religious elite. They were so angry they even wanted to kill a man who was already dead once! John had no idea that things were about to get even crazier!

Lent Day 1: What If I Don’t Believe?

As they all approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage. It was on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent out two disciples. He said to them, “Go to the village ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a donkey tied up. Her colt will be with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them. The owner will send them right away.” This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet would come true. It says, “Say to the city of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you. He is gentle and riding on a donkey. He is riding on a donkey’s colt.’ ” (Zechariah 9:9) The disciples went and did what Jesus told them to do. They brought the donkey and the colt. They placed their coats on them. Then Jesus sat on the coats. A very large crowd spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Some of the people went ahead of him, and some followed. They all shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118:26) “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. The people asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus. He is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” – Matthew 21:1-11

I love talking to people who don’t share the same beliefs as I do. It’s so interesting to learn why people believe what they believe. It challenges my own beliefs and forces me to see things from a different point of view. That’s a good thing.

When you hear the word “Lent” (not to be confused with “lint”), I’m not sure what images come to mind. For the longest time, I always associated Lent with having to “give something up”. And yes, observing a fast is part of many Lenten traditions. Lent, in its simplest terms, is a period of time we use to prepare for Easter – the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But I had this thought… What if you don’t believe that Jesus really ressurected? What if you’re not sure what you think of Jesus? Can you still “play along” this Lent?

Yes! I want to use this Lenten season to get to know Jesus better. You can too, and you don’t have to go in with any endgame in mind. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey the week he was to be crucified, some people worshiped Him. But others did not. Some people simply asked, “Who is this?” If that’s all you can say about Jesus right now, that’s okay. I’d encourage us all to keep asking questions.

Go Ahead And Skip Church!

atheist

The above image is a billboard put up by the American Atheists group. I’m sure it drives some Christians bananas (and make some cry, “War On Christmas! Grrr!”), but they of course have every right to put it up… And I see an important truth in it.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said this of the billboard:

“We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person. The things that are most important during the holiday season — spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry — have nothing to do with religion.”

With that statement, David shows a better understanding of Christian theology than some Christians.

Unfortunately, we Christians may have given the world (and perhaps even ourselves) a false view of church. We have confined it to a place, an event, an obligation, a little box to be checked.

Don’t get me wrong, I love church. I work at a church! Church – when done the way Jesus intended it to be done – is a beautiful thing. I have experienced its beauty firsthand, and that is why I am saddened when people have a shallow view of what church is – or, at the very least, what it should and could be.

You probably don’t need a billboard to give you permission to skip church. On the other hand, maybe you do. (In the words of Ed Sheeran, I’m just thinking out loud). Maybe you have been guilted into church attendance. Maybe you don’t really believe in God, but if there is a God maybe going to church on Christmas will keep him off your back. Maybe a family member shames you for not going. Maybe you’ve been taught that going to church somehow makes you a “good person”. If that’s the case, I’m genuinely sorry. I hope that billboard does offer you relief and takes some pressure off you. That’s not the picture we get of the first-century church.

The other day a friend told me of a pastor who cancelled church on Christmas. He told his congregation that instead of attending church that day, they were to be the church. They were to go out and serve people. Not to earn God’s love, but precisely because they were already loved by God. They were to now go love others with that same love. You might say they were to simply be good for goodness’ sake…

Christians, what would happen if we truly acted like the hands and feet of Jesus? Even people who skipped church would experience church when we came into contact with them. And it would be a good experience.

The believers studied what the apostles taught. They shared their lives together. They ate and prayed together. Everyone was amazed at what God was doing. They were amazed when the apostles performed many wonders and signs. All the believers were together. They shared everything they had. They sold property and other things they owned. They gave to anyone who needed something. Every day they met together in the temple courtyard. They ate meals together in their homes. Their hearts were glad and sincere. They praised God. They were respected by all the people. Every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

How To Put The “Christ” Back In Christmas

only-november

I’m almost upset with myself for writing this before it’s even Thanksgiving, but it’s not up to me to decide what’s trending… (Truth be told, this is about a week too late! :))

Okay, time to add in my 2 cents… I have some suggestions on how we can put the Christ back in Christmas. They are broken into two categories. First I will address Christians. That is, people who are trying to follow Jesus the best they can. Then I will address people who do not identify themselves as Christians or followers of Jesus.

To The Christians:

1. Pray For Our Brothers & Sisters Who Are Actually Being Persecuted. Man, am I bad at this one. I pretty much never do this. I take so much for granted living in the U.S. of A.There are people in other countries who are actually being persecuted for what they believe. Places where it’s dangerous and even deadly to be a Christian. This Christmas season I want to do a better job of praying for them…

2. Be The Hands & Feet of Jesus. Remember what Jesus told His disciples the night before He was put to death.

“A new command I give you: Trick Starbucks baristas into writing Merry Christmas on your cup by lying about what your name is.”

Oh, wait, that wasn’t it. It was actually:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

How about we show people what we believe by how we treat them? How about we buy a stranger who’s hungry a meal and a cup of coffee, instead of complaining about what’s on (or not on) the cup?

See, the church right now has something in common with the first century church. They were both looked at as being crazy, but for different reasons. In the first century, people scratched their heads and said, “Man, those people have some weird beliefs, but look how much they love, sacrifice, and give.” Unfortunately, we’re not known for the latter as much anymore.

3. Reflect Inwardly. Advent is a great time for Christians to ponder why we believe what we believe. I’ve been writing scripts for December BCLs and it’s been really great to go back and look at these stories that have become so familiar to us. The story of a girl who had the course of her whole life altered drastically, but trusted God’s plan for her life. The story of how God stepped in to save people who were hopeless. Completely hopeless.

Our Big Idea in BCL for December is Advent: Preparing to Receive The Gift of Jesus. I forget far too often how great of a gift Jesus is. Advent is a great time to reflect quietly on that truth.

4. Invite A (Real) Friend To Christmas Eve Service. Now, don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that Christians should keep quiet about our faith. I am saying that everything we do should be clothed in love. I believe Christmas is a great time to invite our friends to church… Assuming we have a genuine relationship with them. Getting to know someone’s story takes time and requires us to listen more than we talk. Our motivation must be simply to love that person. When a relationship is build on mutual trust, inviting a friend to church doesn’t seem nearly as strange as simply handing someone a tract without ever knowing their name. Even if they say no, I doubt they’ll be angry or offended by your invite. And Christmas Eve services are great because (hopefully) they are centered on Who we’re all about – Jesus.

Okay, now a word to people who do not identify themselves as Christians or followers of Jesus. Obviously, I would love it if one day you put your trust in Jesus. But I don’t think you should be forced, threatened, manipulated, or cajoled into it. If, however, you would like to know why I believe the Christmas story, I’d love to sit down with you and chat. Perhaps at Starbucks, with red cups in hand (though I normally get a frap)…

So here is my list for you:

1. Watch Jingle All The WayIt’s the best Christmas movie!

That Kinda God

el dorado

Last night Diana and I watched The Road to El Dorado. It came out in 2000 but I had never seen it, although I did have the soundtrack (I love Elton John, and while it’s no Lion King, it’s pretty decent). The movie was DreamWorks only box office bomb, and I can see why. It definitely had potential, but I don’t think they quite knew what to do with it. It wasn’t a musical per se, but at one point the main characters busted out into a song (horribly sung, by the way). Sidenote: If you’re going to shell out the dollars (or pounds) to hire Sir Elton and Tim Rice to write songs for your movie, just go ahead and make it a full-blown musical. I feel like the songs were wasted… ANYWAY… There was one beautiful part in the movie, which Diana pointed out.

The movie begins in 16th-century Spain and centers on two con men, Tulio and Miguel (but they aren’t you’re typical con men, of course. They’re goofy/lovable.) Through a series of adventures they find themselves in the ancient city of El Dorado – a city of gold. The people of El Dorado immediately think Julio and Miguel are gods (and somehow everyone speaks English, but suspension of disbelief…). The people are expecting angry gods. The high priest keeps trying to offer them human sacrifices to please them, which they refuse.

In one scene, Miguel frees a man who the high priest wanted to sacrifice. The man cowers in fear of Miguel. Miguel tries to offer a friendly gesture, but the man runs away. Then Miguel does something unexpected of a god. He takes out his guitar and starts strumming. At first, children are afraid of him. But soon they can’t resist. They gather around him. And it doesn’t stop there. The adults take notice. Miguel begins dwelling with the people of El Dorado. They enjoy his company, and he enjoys theirs. Their “god” doesn’t desire sacrifices. He takes pleasure in relationships. And the high priest is stunned. He says, “This is not what I expected.” You can watch the scene here.

The crazy thing is, the high priest seemed to prefer an angry god. A god he could manipulate with sacrifices. A god who can be understood with formulas.

A personal god can be scarier. A god who invites you to sit down and chat with him is not what we might expect. It will cost us our lives in a different kind of way. That god might ask us to do something we’d rather not do. But if we choose to obey it will not be out of fear, but out of a sense of love and gratitude. And, as the people of El Dorado would tell you, that’s a god worth following.

And this probably won’t shock you, but I think Jesus is that kinda God.

The Word became a human being. He made his home with us. We have seen his glory. It is the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father. And the Word was full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Guy On A Mat

A few days later, Jesus entered Capernaum again. The people heard that he had come home. So many people gathered that there was no room left. There was not even room outside the door. And Jesus preached the word to them. Four of those who came were carrying a man who could not walk. But they could not get him close to Jesus because of the crowd. So they made a hole by digging through the roof above Jesus. Then they lowered the man through it on a mat. Jesus saw their faith. So he said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Some teachers of the law were sitting there. They were thinking, “Why is this fellow talking like that? He’s saying a very evil thing! Only God can forgive sins!”

Right away Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Is it easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So Jesus spoke to the man who could not walk. “I tell you,” he said, “get up. Take your mat and go home.” The man got up and took his mat. Then he walked away while everyone watched. All the people were amazed. They praised God and said, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12

This past Sunday, BCL launched its new season (it was also my first wedding anniversary! We celebrated at Kobe’s!) BCL is my church’s family production. My job is to write scripts for it. Every month we focus on one “Big Idea”. Historically, these Big Ideas have been “traits that Jesus displayed in his life that we want to display in our life.” Things like Respect, Responsibility, Kindness, and Patience. Things that every parent wants their kid to learn, regardless of what they believe about Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves. The problem is when kids think they are a checklist. That they are a measuring stick for God’s love. That they must try harder. And I don’t need to tell you that this is a problem for adults, too…

Over the past year, we [Summit’s Family Ministry] have been focusing on helping develop Sticky Faith in children. A faith that lasts. A faith centered on Jesus, not a list of Do’s and Don’ts. Our Big Idea for September is When I Trust Jesus, It Changes Me. And we kicked off the year with this story – the man on the mat. A man so desperate to reach Jesus that his friends cut a hole in a roof and lower him down. This man wanted external change. He wanted to walk. And Jesus made that happened, but first He took care of an internal problem… He forgave the man of his sins. Something only God can do.

I can get so easily caught up in try harder thinking. I think a lot of Christians can. Maybe that’s why many come across as judgmental so often. If we are doing things by our own efforts, then it’s easy to point the finger at others who are not “trying as hard”. Maybe our external behavior changes for awhile, but we are miserable inside. But this guy didn’t try to do anything. He was brought to Jesus and Jesus did the rest. If we admit we are a mess and our vulnerable with ourselves, others, and God, that’s when we can experience change and joy.

As we continue to explore the Big Idea of trusting Jesus this month in BCL, I hope I can let it sink in. There’s no scorecard. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any more.

Kim Davis, Ashley Madison, Trump’s Hair

[NOTE: I started writing this post 8 days ago and had to stop, and never had the time to get back to it, so some of it may seem outdated.]

I have a lot of friends who are Christians. I have a lot of friends who would not consider themselves Christians. I enjoy talking to all of them about current events, politics, and other worthy (and perhaps not-so-worthy) news items. Here’s the crazy thing:

Their opinions on these topics aren’t as polarizing as one might think.

Now, I’m not saying they are in agreement on these topics (although that also happens more than one might think…). I’m saying the space between their views isn’t ocean-sized. I haven’t taken a poll, but most of my Christian friends do not think Kim Davis is some kind of martyr. Most are not voting for Trump. But unfortunately, the loudest people on both extremes get the most attention.

I think what drives me crazy is the mean-spirited name calling that I see from all sides (because there is never only 2 sides…). And believe me, I’m not immune to this. I’m as guilty as anyone. But no matter what your opinion is on any topic, being mean is a credibility killer. I read that Kim Davis’  husband called the judge who sentenced her to jail a “butt”. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it, is that’s disrespectful. And it goes against God’s Word. I’ve also seen people call Kim Davis a different “B” word. Same thing applies. You do not need to resort to that to win arguments.

I know one thing that my non-Christian friends seem to dislike about Christians is hypocrisy. To be sure, hypocrisy exists. But we must not confuse hypocrisy with brokenness. Someone who agrees that “A” is wrong [insert your sin of choice here] but struggles with “A” isn’t a hypocrite. The question is, are they living out there brokenness authentically? Are they honest with their struggle. Are they showing you they need Jesus just as much as you do? I know people like that. They are beautiful. It’s hard not to root for them and want to be there for them when they fall.

Christians get in trouble when they give the vibe that they don’t personally need Jesus. They will use Jesus’ words to tell others what they shouldn’t be doing. But while Jesus said a lot of good stuff, we’re ultimately Christians because of what Jesus did. Namely, take our punishment for sin. Sin no one is immune to. So when the people who seem to be morally policing others get caught on a site like, say, Ashley Madison, it can seem like poetic justice. It can be easy to take satisfaction in that. But no matter what your stance is, I would beg you not to take joy in it. My heart breaks for those who got tangled in the web of AM, regardless of what their believe system is. Families are being torn apart, and we need to have compassion. Compassion doesn’t mean giving a free pass. Compassion doesn’t mean that the offender doesn’t have to take responsibility. I’m still figuring out what compassion is. But I think, at least in part, it’s admitting you’re just as broken and messed up as them, and you’re not above a great fall.

I’m tired. I hope this makes sense.

Good Stuff

Today I read: Genesis 1-2:3

I guess you can call me a liberal creationist. I won’t argue about how He did it. 6 literal days or a few billion years? Did He use evolution as a means to create? When did the dinosaurs come into play? (and were they dizzy, dizzy?) All interesting questions and okay to debate, but I don’t want to put God in a box.

I don’t read Genesis 1 and 2 as a science textbook. The creation story, to me, is less about the process of creation and more about revealing who our God is. A God who turns chaos into something wonderful. A God who is creative, but not without order. An artist who carefully plans out His work.

And the best part? He creates good stuff. “It is good,” He says over and over. God made good stuff for us to enjoy. And WE are the very good stuff. YOU are the very good stuff.

Now that’s good stuff. 🙂

You’ll Be OK

I’ve had a lot on my mind the past few weeks. Emanuel AME Church. Marriage equality. My own brokenness. The log in my own eye…

Yes, the pesky log in my own eye that impedes me from seeing clearly. If I had a buck for every time I judged someone for judging someone else this month, I’d be a rich man. Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.

The shooting at Emanuel AME Church hit me hard. I’m not really sure why. There has been other shootings lately, and they all matter. One life isn’t any more valuable than another. But I remember just sitting at my desk at work feeling sad. Maybe it was the fact that this kid, Dylann Roof, sad with his victims for an hour, reading God’s Word and praying. And, apparently, almost didn’t go through with it because of how they welcomed him… My co-worker and friend, Bill Behr (pretty much the nicest guy in the world) came over to me. I told him why I was sad. He spoke truth into my soul. He reminded me that the victims were with the Lord now, and that God’s plans are bigger than man’s. He was right.

What unfolded over the next few days amazed me. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME Church. They have been an example to me of what following Jesus is about. When they faced Dylann Roof in the court room, they had every right to cuss him out. Instead, they forgave him. Reverend Anthony Thompson, the husband of Myra Thompson, said this:

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

What? You gotta be kidding me! This man just lost his wife and he’s face to face with the killer whose racism and hate changed his life forever. And what does he say? He actually seems concerned for Dylann. He wants him to be OK. He wants him to be better off than he is right now. I have to wonder, what must Dylann have been thinking at that moment. I just murdered nine people. I killed this man’s wife… And it sounds like he feels bad for me… Give my life to Christ so I can be OK?

Rev. Anthony Thompson, and all the other victims’ families, have been through hell. Scratch that. They are going through hell. Forgiving someone’s offense, whether big or small, doesn’t mean glossing over it. No doubt they are angry and sad. But they have chosen the path of forgiveness. They have showed me what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus said a lot of hard things. One time he climbed a mountain and gave a big speech. And his friend Matthew wrote down everything he said. And there was a lot of weird stuff in there about being salt and light, giving people your coat, and walking 2 miles with them. And he also said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor. Hate your enemy.’ But here is what I tell you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. Then you will be children of your Father who is in heaven. He causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Even the tax collectors do that. If you greet only your own people, what more are you doing than others? Even people who are ungodly do that. So be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48

We read that now and we’re like, yeah, okay, I know that… I read that once in the Bible. I heard it in a sermon once. Love your enemies. My boss is a real jerk, but I’ll love him. (Just a hypothetical… My boss isn’t a jerk… Love you, Darling! :))

But every once in awhile we get a glimpse of what it means to really trust and follow Jesus in that…

Jesus says, pray for those who hurt you.

So Anthony said, “Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be OK, Dylann…”

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