FINDING HUMOR, FAITH & JOY IN UNEXPECTED PLACES

SOCKS, CATS & CALIFORNIA GREYBACKS ~ 12/26/09

They fell from the trees like over-ripe fruit, sodden with the juices of life. The wind did not fell them, or the rain. Instead, they let go their lofty lookouts at the report of a fine .410 gauge Winchester Model 37— and as they dropped, so did the barometer of pent-up tensions I‘d smuggled with me into the leafless woods that Christmas Eve day. I knew a doctor once, a friend of a friend really, who I overheard saying that after a long day of life-saving, it felt good to kill something. I’m sure he didn’t mean it to sound that sadistic. Still… there’s nothing I quite look forward to like my annual pilgrimage to the in-laws house each Christmas, to bask in the glow of extended family and— to launch expeditions in search of the venerable California Greyback.

I’ve recently discovered that to find the best sermon illustrations, all one has to do is get a large family together for at least two days. After that, the stories take care of themselves. I can prove this. One of my sisters-in-law, Debbie, while running up to surprise my wife from behind in a Walmart parking lot, inexplicably ran straight into a parked car. I could tell she hoped no one had noticed. I tried to convey a look that said ‘keep dreaming.’ Later that weekend, I watched again in my plaid bathrobe from the living room gliding rocker as she almost fell backwards off the couch. She was apparently trying to sit on the arm to get a better view into the kitchen. Getting up, she turned around to see me smiling at her. She sighed in despair.

There was a time at the Payne home (my in-laws) when the children woke before the sun did Christmas mornings. Those were the days I slept alone in a sleeping bag on the floor, still a guest of the family, an outsider on probational status. In those days, the kids (all 9 of them) would hover and perch around the mouth of the staircase like ticklish angelic vultures, waiting for word to float up that the feast of fun was made ready. Their parents, in turn, initiated this welcome only when it was certain enough caffeine had been consumed downstairs to sustain them through the coming ordeal. I call this state ‘the fullness of time.’

It was fun to compare how different this Christmas morning was from those gone by. Most of the ‘kids’ are married now, with children of their own. The human multiplication in our clan is such that we now divvy ourselves up between houses for the nights. In the morning, while my own children made sure I continued to observe the pre-dawn traditions of Christmas past, most other family members didn’t shuffle into the living room until about nine-ish. Even then, the boarding situation made it necessary to wait on the arrival of other households for the festivities to began. The flip side of this small delay was an increased opportunity for the development of that charming kind of chaos.

Like not knowing where to expect the next wrapping paper snowball to come from, craziness at the Payne house can originate in any number of unlikely sources. In this case, one of several nameless housecats came streaking out from under the Christmas tree, dragging a slashed baggie of homemade venison jerky in its wake. Clearly convinced it’s pursuer was actually a very good smelling, though cat-eating monster, freaked-out kitty stumbled over a coffee table, dashed around a jumble of boxes and finally was tackled after emerging, nerves raw, from under a string of mismatched chairs. If sports fans in football stadiums attempted to execute ‘the wave’ with their feet, it would closely mimic the spontaneous calisthenics I observed in those moments. Cheering may also have been involved.

Later that morning, in a conversation I’ll treasure forever, the talk turned especially deep.

ESTHER (My wife): “I couldn’t buy new wrapping paper this year because I had to use up what I got last year.”

RUTH (Esther’s sister): “Ooh, I LOVE buying wrapping paper!”

JOSH (with unveiled disgust): “Loving to buy wrapping paper is like loving to buy socks.”

MARGIE (Mother-in-law, from the kitchen): “What are you guys talking about?”

ESTHER: “That loving wrapping paper is like loving socks.”

MARGIE (Still in kitchen): “Ooh, I LOVE socks!” [much laughter from the living room.]

POST SCRIPT: Later that Christmas morning, yet another sister-in-law opened a beautifully wrapped box to find in it a pair of brand new socks. They were, of course, from Margie. You can’t make this stuff up.

The fun did not end with the socks. Like dutiful members of a survivalist commune, our family displays a knack for homemade goods. Mother-in-law Margie makes soap that smells like strawberries. This is essential for personal hygiene. Sister-in-law Ruth makes jam from the fruit of trees in her back yard. This is essential for having tasty toast. My wife Esther makes rice-filled bean bags. These are essential as heat pads, to treat the aches and pains derived from working the land on our hypothetical commune. Brother-in-law Will makes beer. This is essential in cases, err… in case of a return to the bartering system for procuring basic goods (due again to the hypothetical inflation of the national currency). And I, of course, make knives. Which, lets face it, as mankind’s oldest tools, are basically essential for everything. There were probably other homemade gifts exchanged as well but, as it was my turn to stand watch in our hpothetical commune lookout tower, I couldn’t document them.

I remember one Christmas with this special family when I pitched in to buy my brother-in-law Cody his first bb-gun. We shot old soda cans in the backyard with his brothers and showed him how to hold it properly, safely. I remember not too many Christmases later, supervising as he brought down his first California Greyback with an old, single-shot .22. He was so proud of himself. I was pretty darn proud too. This Christmas I listen with amazement as that same little boy now tells his brothers all the weapons he’s qualified to use when he deploys this August. Suddenly it’s his turn to open a present, and he lifts up and out a folded American flag. Jim, his dad, explains that this flag used to belong to his own father, Cody’s grandfather; he was a soldier too. Jim goes on to say the flag was given to Cody’s grandfather by President Reagan. I find myself listening, trying not to show how moved I am when Jim explains that they will fly this flag from the day he deploys until the day he comes home. Cody, who’s been jaunty and distracted all morning, pauses for a moment, and I think he gets it, the significance of all this. Then the moment is gone, the camera that takes moving pictures engages, and it’s time to see what’s in the next box.

That afternoon I knelt in the cold grass of my in-laws front yard and taught my 5-year old son Nathan how to hold and aim his new rubber-band gun properly, safely. It was his favorite present this Christmas, and it’s a gift from his uncle Cody. I carefully loaded the rubber bands for him, one at a time, smiling as he eagerly took the gun from me, laughing and clapping him on the back for the first of many times as his rubber bullets knocked over our thin plastic targets, a handful of stained dominoes, falling on Christmas morning.

CHRISTMAS LIVES! ~ 12/23/09


I have a horrible time letting go of Christmas each year. Funny thing-- as I write this-- THE DAY is still two more earth revolutions away. And yet, already I have begun to feel the effects of post-Christmas melancholy. Don't worry, I'll get over it.

Below is something I wrote a couple years back in the throes of one such dark mood. Oddly enough, when I read it now each Christmas, it always cheers me up. May it be the same for you (in case you're an Eeyore like me). Christmas lives because Jesus lives!

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

CHRISTMAS LIVES (December, 2006)
I'm standing at a crossroads
Where the world commits its treason
Tossing out an old year's dregs
To brew a different season

It's countdown to another start
It's hunger always famished
But where does Christmas live
I wonder, once it has been banished?

Does Christmas live in TV screens
and split the rent with classics?
Or do the toy stores harbor it
to make their sales dramatic?

Does Christmas live in Christmas trees?
If so they die together...
Or maybe it's within the snow?
They say God's in the weather.

Does Christmas live in comfort foods,
In feasts and pot-luck dinners?
Do we crusade for fullness
as do saints, or empty sinners?

Does Christmas live in hymnbooks
Dozing soft in dusty pews?
Do carols get a second look?
I doubt they're good reviews

Maybe Christmas lives in family?
They fill rooms and shopping carts ~
Does it percolate to children
Who grow up to play our parts?

I ask ~
Does Christmas live
If breathing takes place once a year?
When mothballs guard the cardboard vaults
Which store our Christmas cheer?

Does Christmas live outside the womb
That is the Christmas Season?
And if not is it viable
To preach hope without reason?

No ~
Christmas deals in Life, not death
Hope has a destination
'Fore time's beginning Word had breath
And then it had a nation...

That nation clutched 'seed' to its chest
Preserving words of solace
And in these strands of stubborn faith
God incubated promise.

The Great Magician tipped His hat
The Dealer showed His hand
And wide the eyes of history grew
While gasping grasped His plan

He knew the limits of the law
That rules we'd break was certain
And knew, He did, what prophets saw ~
That hope must be a person.

This person came, the Christmas reason
Son of God above ~
And Son of Man, the Christmas season
Birthed to us in love

He came to live within us
Check the label on the package
The Chief Postmaster mailed Hope thus
To heal our hearts of baggage

And so it is if shun we must
the past in such short order
Let's smuggle Christmas with us
As we cross the New Years border!

THE CEASEFIRE OF HEAVEN ~ 12/18/09

In the story I remember, a fierce conflict rages between two Ace pilot adversaries of the first World War. One of these pilots is Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, the “Bloody Red Baron” of Germany. The other pilot… is Snoopy. The Red Baron has decimated all other pilots in his path, leaving only this one valiant beagle, flying his trusty Sopwith Camel, to endure the deadly aerial onslaught. But at some point in the ensuing… um, dogfight, Baron von Richthofen gains the tactical advantage. Plunging out of nowhere, sun at his back, props screaming, The Red Baron settles his Fokker Dr.I triplane in behind the frantic Snoopy in perfect kill position—only to hesitate at the faint sound of church bells, joyfully announcing the arrival of Christmas day. Forcing Snoopy’s plane to the ground, the suddenly jovial Baron leaps from his plane, claps him on the back and announces “Merry Christmas, my friend!”

Laugh all you like at the absurdity of this story. That won’t make the inspirational and historical event it’s based on go away. No, although the Red Baron was a real and deadly fighter pilot for the German Luftstreitkräfte during WWI, he never actually engaged in mortal combat with Charlie Brown’s empathetic canine—sorry to burst your bubble. There was however, during the brutally harsh winter of 1914, a Christmas ceasefire so moving and unusual that books are still being written in an attempt to capture and preserve its power.

According to various eyewitness accounts, the wartime miracle in question took place on Christmas Eve, along the 27-mile stretch of roughly parallel trenches “that began at the edge of the English Channel and continued to the border of Switzerland” (www.eyewitnesstohistory.com). In most places, these trenches were 60-100 yards apart. In other spots, machine gunners and snipers faced-off at a distance of no more than 30 yards. On this day, however, instead of flaming bursts from protruding gun barrels, tiny Christmas trees with lit candles suddenly began to appear along the top of the German trench walls. Later that

day, a chocolate cake was mysteriously delivered to the British lines from the Germans with a note, requesting a ceasefire the following day (Christmas). Frank Richards was a British soldier who experienced this "Christmas Truce". "On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with 'A Merry Christmas' on it,” He writes—“The enemy had stuck up a similar one… Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.” For the rest of that Christmas day and through most of the next, British and German soldiers openly swapped gifts, sang songs about the birth of Christ and played soccer games (they also drank watered down beer). Though it was a Holiday ceasefire never again to be repeated throughout the rest of the war, it remained, for those who experienced it, a moment of peace that would likewise never be forgotten.

Of course, there are many historians that look back on this event with the sour eye of cynicism. I was amazed at the number of demoralizing theories posited for the unusual day of peace—‘both sides were just tired of the trenches,’ ‘they were in a good mood because it stopped raining that day,’ and my personal favorite—‘they were just trying to gain a tactical advantage by looking into each other’s trenches.’ While snippets of these grinchy theories may have been true of some individuals, I believe the soldiers on that day, by and large, laid down their guns because they caught a lingering echo of the angels’ announcement to humble shepherds long ago and grasped a glimpse of the power behind heaven’s ceasefire. So that, at the words “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” Germans and British alike were compelled to emulate towards each other God’s goodwill towards them.

It's understandable that, for the sake of teaching our children Jesus’ example of unselfish love, we rightly repeat His own words each Christmas—“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is right, good, True, and when it comes to giving to and receiving from one another, there really is a greater blessing in the giving than in the receiving. But what I think ends up happening sometimes is that, in all the frenzied pressure to find enough gifts, ‘the best gift,’ or simply something worthwhile to give to one another during the Christmas season, we neglect to first receive from God. We end up giving ourselves empty and forget to receive ourselves full, of the triumphant announcement—of peace.

Christmas is the announcement of a peace offering from God to all people, a divine treaty born in human flesh, a holy ceasefire initiated by God to end and mend the rebellious conflict raging between His holy standards and humanity’s willful sin that He did not incite. And the design of this announcement, its intent—was that heaven’s offering of peace would be received by humankind and accepted. That’s all God wanted for Christmas.

You know, there were some soldiers during the ceasefire of 1914 that hung back while others scrambled to climb out of the trenches. Some of these who remained behind were too angry. Some were too afraid. Some simply couldn’t trust what seemed too good to be true. And as long as they remained in their trenches, they were still at war. As long as they stayed in their trenches, they missed out on the experience of peace. So here's my question to you; will you acknowledge heaven’s ceasefire this year? Before you worry one more wart onto the face of Christmas because of any giving you still have to do, will you first receive the gift that heaven gave? Because when it comes right down to it, all the secondhand blessings in the world find their source in one truth: It’s more blessed that God gives and you receive. And until you come out from your muddy trench to do so, you’ll remain unable to offer anything to anyone of lasting value this Christmas.

10 Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “ Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!(Luke 2)

For Emmanuel’s sake— un-trench.

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

THE REAL ST. NICK (Christmas Re-Post) ~ 12/10/09

My mom used to tell us about an uncle that would occasionally visit their family during the holidays and suck the living joy out of their Christmas fun. How? Two words: “Satan Claus.” “Don’t you know,” he would say, “that all you have to do is move two letters and 'Santa' becomes 'Satan?' Satan Claus.

Look, I dislike the bloated commercialism of Christmas as much as the next guy, but I’m sorry, that’s just extreme -- that’s downright “Grinchy.” As Bill (and probably Jesus) would lovingly admonish, “unclench!” I do, however, understand the frustration many Christians feel about the sly coup d’etat that’s taken place over the centuries to displace Jesus as the central Christ-mass theme. The image that comes to mind is the scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where Indiana Jones deftly exchanges the artifact of gold for a bag of worthless sand in the opening scene. Incidentally, the result of that movie switcheroo is a pretty good parallel to what has happened in reality – the pillars that hold up the meaning and purpose and wonder of Christmas have collapsed around us, to the point that even at this most magical of seasons, for many in America, “nothing tastes”—nothing is truly meaningful.

But is Santa really to blame? I don’t think so. “Guns don’t kill people” the saying goes – “People kill people.” In the same way, Santa hasn’t replaced Jesus; people have replaced Jesus with Santa. And honestly, I don’t think Santa is going away. So instead of sticking our heads in the sand and hoping the world will leave us alone, instead of telling our kids that Santa is evil and an abomination and probably the Antichrist too – maybe we can tell our kids about the real, historical, God-fearing man behind the mythology of Santa. Maybe we can tell our kids about “St. Nick.”

WHO WAS ST. NICK?

“The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325 (where we get “The Nicene Creed”).He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church.” -- www.stnicholascenter.org

After the Reformation, celebration of Nicholas as a ‘saint’ “died out in all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holland, where he was known as Sinterklaas. Dutch colonists brought the tradition to New Amsterdam (now New York City), and English-speaking Americans adopted him as Santa Claus, who is believed to live at the North Pole and to bring gifts to children at Christmas.” --www.biography.com

Should we allow Santa or “St. Nick” to displace Jesus in our Christian families? No; Jesus needs to be at the center of it all. But when little ones turn conversations to Santa, maybe it’s okay to tell them about his namesake, a man who loved Jesus, lived like Jesus, suffered for Jesus, and was part of a body of Christians that protected some of the most foundational doctrines of our faith through a creed that still speaks for us today. What do you say? I say, Merry Christmas.

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

WHAT NORTHERN CA IS WAITING FOR...

Love this short video. This is the 'mood' we here in northern CA are all craving as we wait for Christmas. It's what I'm craving, anyway.

The First Snow, Canon 7D from Reid Carrescia on Vimeo.

DECEMBER FORECAST ~ 12/4/09

December is shaping up to be an interesting month, a unique Christmas season to say the least. I knew this immediately when I walked into the Outpost office yesterday morning and discovered that Ivan, the black bear 3/4-mount perched precariously over my desk, had absconded with the office Christmas wreath. His denials were of no help to him as a small twig of bright red holly berries still clung to the fir near the side of his mouth. Traitor.

There are other signs as well. Trusty Dusty, one of several, regular office visitors, informed me that El Nino will shortly be upon us once more. "Snow is coming," he sniffed prophetically. He also told me my coffee smelled bad, that he had thrown a pillow at his water glass during the night, and that he was mildly offended I wasn't displaying the porcelain nativity scene he had given me for Christmas last year. My excuses were of no help to me as a small twig of a smile still clung to the side of my mouth. "Traitor," said his eyes. Ivan snickered behind me.

But seriously, all weirdness aside ~ Christmas is a wonderful time of year, and this year I’m inviting you as part of The Outpost family to celebrate it as a family – a church family. So allow me the chance to give you something; some good news, some fun news, some family news – a “sneak peek” into a couple great December events I hope you will choose to be a part of this Christmas season:

1) The Outpost Christmas Party, next door to Main Street Shoes ~ Friday, Dec. 18th (6-8pm)

Open to the community! Think “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Christmas caroling, lots of good eats, music, a reading of the Christmas story and a chance to enrich friendships within the body of Christ!

2) Christmas ‘Eve-Eve’ event at Neighborhood in Redding ~ Wednesday, Dec. 23rd (6:30pm)

We don’t have to go as a group, but how fun would that be? Depending on your response, I can make arrangements to reserve a big section of seats during the 6:30pm service, so if you can, let me know that you'll be attending. Think “Christmas field trip to ‘the Mother Ship!’”

With all my heart, I hope to see you there; It just won’t be the same Christmas without you!

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

JUDGMENT DAY ~ 11/23/09

*It’s 1998, and there is pandemonium at NASA. After a series of small asteroids come out of nowhere to destroy New York City, a larger one the size of Texas is also detected, hurtling its way through space with no more than an 18 day notice before it’s catastrophic rendezvous with planet Earth. Unless something is done, everyone in the world can expect to die…

*It’s 2004, and humanity is finally paying for the sin of global warming. Dr. Jack Hall, a scientist in the field of paleoclimatology (you figure it out), postulates the immanent arrival of a worldwide climate change that could threaten to decimate human life as we know it. Only days later, the unthinkable occurs, as tidal levels rise to unprecedented heights, drowning coastal cities in polar ice cap melt-off. Unfortunately, the sudden change in longstanding ocean current routes subsequently leads to the rapid cooling of the planet and the dawning of a new ice age…

*It’s 2012, and mankind literally has a date with destiny, a date the ancient Mayan calendar has for centuries heralded as the year the earth will abruptly end…

If the arts are humanity’s ‘canary in the coal mine,’ it’s fascinating to note the shrill tune this bird’s singing. The funny thing is, I’ve only named three movies from ‘recent’ years; there were about ten others I thought of offhand that had to be cut from this letter for the sake of length. So what’s this fascination with the final destruction of the human race? Why the obsession with worst-case scenarios, the determination to cinematically punish ourselves through such a vast array of gruesome implements? I think the answer is probably pretty simple. The book of Romans, chapter 8, describes the context of our toxic coal mine this way…

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

The melodramatic self-flagellation in so many movies today is a manifestation of humankind’s guilty conscience, seeping through the façade of ‘fine.’ Forget the reasons you’ve heard; the human psyche (soul) is haunted by its suppressed awareness of an impending Judgment Day, a day of reckoning for a willful rebellion against spiritual Truth. And the unsaved are right to be afraid, because God is threatening—“But He threatens with Justice” (R.C. Sproul)… Although this is a critique meant for non-Christians, I’ve been surprised to find uncertainty even among the saved as to what awaits them on the ‘Day of Judgment.’ Some Children of God have been taught that fear of this impending day applies to them as well, as if they should expect some big screen debut of their life’s most shameful secrets:

*It’s the end of time, and the entire world is watching as God begins the midnight screening of (Your name here)'s life on His heavenly flat screen, in all its high-def splendor… To which I respond with a resounding “NOT SO!”

In John chapter 5, Jesus buries his spurs in the sides of the Pharisees after they grow indignant

about a comment of his which seems to imply equality with God. He does this by… agreeing with their observation. The comment that got them so riled up was this one: "My Father is working until now, and I am working." Jesus had just healed a lame man on the Sabbath day, and they were angry; didn’t Jesus know this was a day for rest? NO HEALING ALLOWED. Jesus scoffs at this by pointing out that just as God the Father is constantly at work to sustain His creation, so He, as the Son, works despite the calendar date to sustain and bring wholeness to the created order, Sabbath or no Sabbath. Besides, he points out, the Sabbath itself was created for man, and for just such a purpose—renewal. What better day to renew a person’s health?

Jesus was not a good politician; this only made the religious scorekeepers even madder. ‘He’s doing it again! Claiming equality (gasp)WITH GOD!’ To which Jesus replies, ‘Oh, you think that’s impressive? If you like my working to heal on the Sabbath, you’ll really be impressed by my working when 1) THE DEAD RISE AT THE SOUND OF MY VOICE & 2) I JUDGE THE WHOLE WORLD.’ Yikes. Jesus then goes on to say this…

24”Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

27…And he (the Father) has given him (Jesus) authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good (hearing Christ’s word and believing) to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment(ESV version, parenthesis mine).

The resurrection of the Christ-follower looks like LIFE, not JUDGMENT. Why? Because for those who have already responded to the voice of Jesus with belief, Judgment Day has already happened! In his sermon last weekend, Pastor Bill talked about the meaning of Passover, that the lamb slain to provide the blood smeared around the house doorways of God’s people represented Christ, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn. 1:29)! A Judgment Day is coming because God demands justice for sin, so that, as in the story of the first Passover, His retributive justice will one day come calling at the threshold of all humanity, unless the price for justice has already been paid, unless a death has already occurred! This is what Jesus did on the cross, placating the wrath of God by accepting on Himself the judgment of God for the cumulative sins of all humanity. Jesus died in our place. He was punished in our place, once, and for all who will accept his substitutionary sacrifice by faith. Through His death, Jesus offers the world a way out of the 'judgment' in Judgment Day.

This is why the Bible says “1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). What will be a Day of Judgment for the unsaved will not be a time of condemnation for you if you are a follower of Jesus; it will be a day of commendation, because we will ultimately be judged according to the life of Christ! Will there be varying degrees of commendation for those who believe? Yes, absolutely, our rewards will vary according to what we did with the gift of a redeemed life while on earth, but not one of us will be publicly shamed or punished for our shortcomings on that Day, because our day of punishment has already come—but it came to Christ, and through Him, “It is finished!”—thanks to God's judgment, poured out on Him at Calvary. We who are saved live post-Judgment Day lives!

If you are a Christian, your Judgment Day has already come—and gone!—transforming a day of condemnation into a coming day of commendation. As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, be at peace, and joyfully give thanks… for that.

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

DUST WITH A DESTINY ~ 11/13/09

Two Sundays ago in church, I asked our congregation to join me in praying through Psalm 103 to begin our service. It was a moving time of praise, and set the tone for the rest of that morning’s worship. There is a line in that Psalm that always unnerves me and reassures me at the same time; maybe you remember it – “13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” And there you go. We are dust.

Why can that bother me so much? I suppose because I’d like to believe I was made of something cool like Wolverine’s adimantium, or maybe something pleasant like ‘sugar and spice and everything nice.’ Even ‘slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails’ would be better than dry mud. Ooh, I know, what about stardust? Yes, that’s better, being made out of intergalactic, interstell—‘No,’ the Bible says—‘Josh, you are dust. Normal, everyday, brush out of the dustpan into the wind kind of dust.’ Ouch.

The other day I was driving to pick up my son Nathan from school when I heard an incredibly touching story on KVIP. A young doctor noticed a very elderly man walk into the waiting room of the hospital one busy morning. The man was dressed nicely, but was obviously alone. Later when the doctor passed through that area, he again noticed the man, still waiting. Then he saw him check his watch. Over the next fifteen minutes, the young doctor caught the man checking his watch with increasing frequency, becoming obviously concerned. Knowing what a busy day it was, that it would probably be at least another hour before the man could be helped, and because of his obvious hurry, the doctor dropped what he was doing to tend to the elderly gentleman.

As the doctor finished the check-up with his grateful patient, he asked the man if he was late for what must be an important meeting? The elderly man smiled and said, “It is an important meeting, but I’m not late yet.” As the physician inquired further, he discovered this 80-something year-old was a devoted husband, and that the important meeting was with his wife at a special care facility. “She has Alzheimer’s” said the man, “and she wouldn’t know it even if I was late. In fact, she hasn’t recognized me in five years. All the same, I’ve never missed a lunch date with her, and I don’t intend to miss it today, either.” The man’s story moved the young doctor, but still, he couldn’t help but wonder out loud why he would keep going to her, over and over, every day, if his wife didn’t even know who he was? The elderly man smiled knowingly and patted the physician on the arm. “Because I still know who she is. I still know who she is.”

There are two sides to being known for ‘what’ and ‘who’ we really are. On the one hand, it’s incredibly sobering-- It’s a reality Check. Reality = DUST.

DUST

In the beginning, God took the dust of the earth into His hands and gave humanity its essential dignity as He “…created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). There was an incredibly destiny for this dignified dust called humanity, but along the way it was hijacked by sin’s Alzheimer power, so that we chose to forget God’s plan for us in favor of our own plan— and it was impossible for the memories of original identity & purpose to grow back on their own.

God reminds us of our sobering origins as dust because, as a race, we have pride issues, and ‘God opposes the proud.’ God reminds us of our origins because it points us in the direction of humility when we start to think too highly of ourselves and ‘what we’re capable of.’ Like military recruits, God has to break us down to size before He is able to rebuild us into something stronger. He cuts us off at the knees and we feel the crippling effects of admitting dependency, but once we accept it, that we aren’t ‘self-made men,’ neither self-created nor possessing any sort of inherent ‘self-worth’ in the substance of our origin before being taken into the hands of God— once we admit that who and what we are without God leads only to catastrophe— God then opens up a second chance opportunity for us to embrace His plan for our lives. God makes it necessary for us to admit and accept what we are without Him so He can then reveal to us what we were meant to be with Him… “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Grace = DESTINY!

DESTINY

On the one hand, being fully known by God is incredibly sobering. On the other hand, it’s incredibly comforting! In response to our rebellion, God sent “…his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), and He lived his entire life in perfect memory of His Father’s perfect plan as a ‘do-over’ in your place. He also took upon Himself all the results of humanity’s (your) rebellious amnesia. His name is Jesus, and the results of sin’s Alzheimer power and God’s righteous anger, poured out on Jesus, killed Him as it should have killed us. Today, God is telling you He can rebuild and restore your identity by reminding you of your destiny if you’ll believe and accept this testimony of what Jesus did on your behalf. When you do, you are promised the very life and mind of the resurrected Jesus, unshackled from sin’s Alzheimer power and equipped with the capacity to clearly see, understand and live out a new life according to God the Father’s reinstated plan!

So the Bible says we're 'dust.' Don't panic! We may be dust, but the One whose we are waits to reveal again that we are dust with a destiny! And what is the destiny of dust? The destiny of dust is to be made into the likeness of God’s Son, so that we might fully experience all the benefits of His rich inheritance as co-heirs with Christ, both in this life and eternity (Rom. 8:28-30).

Even when you forget about God, when you join in Peter’s denial, when you stand Jesus up for a ‘quiet time’ appointment, push Him away because He’s unrecognizable to you in some crisis of pain, or simply ignore Him because the ‘Christian’ label has become inconvenient or embarrassing, even then, God still knows who you are, He’ll never forget, and He will keep coming to you— again and again and again. This is unspeakably encouraging, especially for those of us who wrestle with who we are out of a sense of brokenness, confusion or deception. The comforting side of being ‘fully known’ by God is that your identity is not determined or defined by your behavior, the quality of your relationships, the sum total of your accomplishments or the negative impact of your failures. Instead, your identity is determined by the One Person who cannot be confused, misled, tricked or coerced into forgetting who you are. Your identity is held secure in the hand of the unchanging, eternal, almighty, omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe, who ‘knows your frame’ even when you don’t know yourself, and ‘who remembers that you are dust’ bound for glory even when sin’s Alzheimer power tries to rob you of your sacred, God-given destiny: if you are saved, your identity is defined by the Life of Christ, and your destiny is His shared glory!

28"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." (Rom. 8:28-30)

God knows who you are. And His perspective is the one that defines you.

Reality = DUST.
Grace = DESTINY!

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

SURROUNDED BY GRACE ~ 11/6/09

Some have commented that The Outpost talks an awful lot about grace. Here's why.

Many people think of Christianity as a system of "do's" and "don'ts," a vast structure of rules, a fortress of old-fashioned morality built to withstand the evil of the world by reminding its members once a week to do a better job of arming themselves with goodness and virtue through a more consistent keeping of the 10 Commandments. But if that was all we were, all we stood for, met together for, lived for and died for, it would be an admittedly stark existence. It would be pretty depressing. Why? Because that is a description of a Christianity all about laws-- about rule keeping only. It is a club of 'shoulds,' a group of 'musts,' and a congregation of 'oughts.' I wouldn't blame non-Christians for wanting to stay clear of people like that, and by extension, a God like that.

This is reason #1 why you'll hear us talk a lot about grace here at The Outpost-- because it is the single most important and distinguishing feature of our God from all the other 'gods' and/or all the other religions. Although the God of the Bible undeniably, passionately demands justice, He is more than Just-- He is merciful. He is a God who has showed Himself to be grace-full. Now to be clear, grace is not leniency, God does not wink at sin-- sin must be punished, and the wrath of God satisfied. But our God is gracious in that He inexplicably chose to go beyond what Justice called for when dealing with humanity: the death penalty, swift, comprehensive and immediate-- by allowing that Justice might be accomplished through substitution.

It is this miracle of substitution that sets the context for grace; we do not talk about grace in a vacuum. It's not simply us wanting to be politically correct by not judging others, or that we want to be seen as nice people because Jesus was nice or because we want to make up for all the churches that talk about hell all the time. The #2 reason we talk so much about grace is because Biblically it is the inducer of faith! The sum total of what Jesus did for us is called "the Gospel of God's Grace" (Acts 20:24), and in Romans this Gospel is described as "the power of God for the salvation of all who believe/have faith (Romans 1:16). Grace and Faith go together, or are meant to. We strive to make people aware of the grace of God so that they might be drawn to faith in God! Then, amazingly, when people take that initial step of faith, as well as each subsequent 'faith step,' they automatically qualify to receive additional 'grace support' in all that follows! 'The grace that saves you is the same grace that sanctifies you' (Titus 2:11,12)-- grace induces faith, and as Bill has said, 'Grace is obligated to Faith'-- we are surrounded by grace.

What do we mean by 'grace?' Again, Bill has put it this way-- "Grace is what God does for you, and faith is our response." That's fine, that sounds good, but maybe you're wondering, as Phillip Yancy has asked, "Yeah, but-- 'What's so amazing about grace?'" Consider this-- all other major systems of religion in the world have required that humanity step up and live up to a set of standards. For most of these there is then a time of 'performance review,' a time of judgement after death, to determine whether or not the criteria for goodness have been met by each individual to justify safe passage into eternal bliss with God. Life for adherents of these religious systems is filled with constant doubt and fear regarding their eternal standing-- after all, the weight of responsibility to 'be good' rests on them... and really, how much 'goodness' is enough? Here is where grace shines, where it is shown to be truly amazing. In Christianity, the standard of 'goodness' required by God for salvation is very clear: PERFECTION-- nothing less will suffice. What would happen if you interviewed 1,000 people and asked each one if they considered themselves to be perfect? Most likely all 1,000 would tell you the same thing-- "Nobody's perfect!" This, to be blunt, is the point. God required perfection. Nobody could deliver. So what did God do-- smite everyone? No. He sent a Deliverer.

What distinguishes our God was His recognition that humanity would never be able to fully step up or measure up. In response to this, He stepped down into our shoes, as one of us, and lived-out/up to the required standard of perfection for us, as a substitute. Then-- because there was still the issue of humankind's guilt to be dealt with-- God the Son placated the just wrath of God the Father by accepting our punishment, as a substitute. This is what Jesus did. He stepped down so we could measure up. He delivered so we could be delivered. That is grace. 'Grace is what God does for you, and faith is our response to it.' Why is the gospel described as "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes?" Because the gospel condensed = GRACE-- grace is that powerful element in the message of the Gospel that, when accepted for the gift it is, finally frees people from God's condemnation and releases people from self-incrimination. Grace induces faith.

Reason #3 we talk about grace is because it threatens the self-righteous. This is a good thing. Self-righteous people, whether they are unsaved and don't think they need a savior, or already saved and prideful-- are threatened by grace because it erases any merit from human comparisons. People actually love to be reminded that 'nobody's perfect' because misery loves company, and because once we grow comfortable with imperfection, standards for greatness revolve around comparing our lives to the lives of other people. No one in this camp would ever admit it, but they are secretly grateful for the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. They allow us to feel so much better about ourselves. Grace, however, does not allow such self-satisfaction. Needing grace forces us to accept the truth about ourselves, that since the standard is absolute perfection rather than comparative goodnes, we need saving just as much as a Saddam Hussein did. That Mother Theresa needed rescuing just as much as Osama Bin Laden does. And this is always painful. But it is also always necessary-- "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

Finally, the #4 reason we talk a lot about grace is to remind the 'already saved' that since God took the initiative in showing grace to us, we in turn get to take the initiative in showing grace to others: To love unconditionally, to show respect to all because they are created in God's image, to forgive every time, to be just even when we are not shown justice. Our reason to grace others and our ability to grace others both flow from the same source-- the goodness of God shown towards us, "in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). And this is not just another 'ought' that we've got to live up to-- "...for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
And that's why we talk about Grace.

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

HALLOWEEN RE-POST: "Unmasking Halloween" ~ 10/29/09

This is a touchy time of year for many Christians.  And because it’s a touchy time for Christians, it’s automatically a touchy time for churches.  How should Christians act on a holiday I’ve heard referred to as “Satan’s Birthday?”  Should we let our kids go “trick-or-treating?” Should we let them dress up in costumes?  Should we let them out of the house at all on October 31st?  How much cooperation with this holiday does it take before we have compromised our status as“called apart ones?”

Ultimately, how your family chooses to treat this day is your own decision, and should be decided according to Scripture, but also conscience.  There were things mentioned by Paul in the New Testament that were okay for a Christian to do, but he pointed out there would always be Christians for whom certain things would continue to feel uncomfortable – their conscience did not allow them some freedoms. If that is you in regards to Halloween, please don’t go against that feeling -- but only you can decide if that applies to you. What follows below, however, is a brief history of the origins of Halloween, and the reasons why The Outpost office will be open Saturday night when the kids come calling.

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Here is a super condensed summary. “Halloween” is the name of the night before an official Church celebration called “All Saints Day” (Celebrated Nov. 1st).  All Saint’s Day was a celebration which began about 300 years after the life of Christ, to honor the many Christian martyrs, known and unknown, throughout the years.  It later came to include honoring ‘all saints,’ or all believers that the Church viewed as exceptional Christian examples. This celebration was also called ‘All-hallows’ or ‘All-hallowmas’ -- from Middle English ‘Alholowmesse’meaning “All Saints' Day”.  Just like Christmas Eve has become an important night before the actual Christmas day, so the night before “All Hallows Day” became important – and was called ‘All-hallows Eve,’ eventually, ‘Halloween.’ 

So that’s where the name comes from.  What about the costumes, the candy, the carved pumpkins? From all the sources I’ve looked at and studied, the prevailing consensus is that many of the external elements of our modern Halloween holiday have come to us through the Celts, later, the Irish.  Apparently they celebrated the end of their year on October 31st (Nov. 1 was their New Years Day) by lighting huge bonfires during a festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in).  On that night “it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth”(www.history.com) and that they caused trouble and damaged crops while there.  Some believe the Celtic priests and druids wore costumes made of dead animals and offered sacrifices during this festival, but there is disagreement on much of the details.

Those are clues about the “what” of Halloween, but what about the “how?”  How did these two celebrations get so mixed up together? Some have claimed the Church purposely changed its celebration date of All Saints Day (It did change the date, but for another reason) in order to take away the “devil’s monopoly” of that day. Whatever the reason, the facts show that having both major celebrations so close together started a slow-motion chain-reaction of syncretism.  This ‘merging’ of traditions started in Europe and was transplanted in colonial times in the Americas, but it reached critical mass during the large-scale imigrations of Irish to the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century. “These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally”(www.history.com).

'In what ways?,' you may wonder... Take, for instance, the origin of the “trick” in “trick-or treat.” Playing pranks and causing mischief on this night almost certainly comes from the Celtic belief of supernatural spirits roaming the earth on Oct. 31 and spreading trouble.  Interestingly however, the “treat” portion of the phrase seems to be repeatedly traced back, once again, to “All Saints Day,” when children and the poor would go “souling” from house to house, singing songs and praying for the dead.  At each home they would be given small round cakes called “souls.” “Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory” (Wikepedia). Obviously not a doctrinally sound idea, but it’s still interesting to note this comes from a Church tradition. Incidentally, the first time these two words were put together as “trick or treat” in print was in 1927, during community-backed efforts to offer an alternative activity to the pranks which were becoming increasingly destructive in the United States. This alternative activity, at least in theory, now gave home-owners the opportunity to avoid a ‘trick’ by giving a ‘treat.’ All of which to say – “trick-or-treating” as it appears today is an American hybrid of mixed traditions.

There is nothing evil about a pumpkin, carved or otherwise (the Irish carved potatoes and turnips, not pumpkins… potatoes aren’t evil either).  Neither is there anything inherently evil about a date on a calendar, like Oct. 31st.  Bill mentioned this a couple sermons ago when he reminded us that what really matters is not the environment, but the invironment. So did Jesus.  In Mark chapter 7 Jesus defends his disciples from the legalistic Pharisees,  so externally oriented (works, actions, appearances) that they accuse Christ’s followers of sin because they aren’t performing the traditional ceremonial washing of their hands and utensils before they eat.  Listen to what Jesus says:

14 ”Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean."

Every day we Christians are exposed to objects, ideas, people and activities that are part of a fallen world.  And the truth about us, throughout all ages, has remained the same – we have been called, just like Jesus, to be “in” the world (Jn. 17). We don’t have to be afraid  to hijack our cultural traditions as tools to reach lost people; Halloween, like anything else in this world, has only as much power over us as we choose to give it, by the grace of God.  We are children of the King – and “..the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”(1Jn. 4:4). We are not defined by what we come in contact with externally,  but by Him who lives in our hearts. To me, Halloween is just another day, just another opportunity to take advantage of in order to advance the Kingdom of God.  But that's me; you decide.

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh

GOD STILL ANSWERS PRAYER! ~ 10/22/09

As I write this, it is the night after a prayer meeting which we now know God has used to forever change our lives. Yesterday morning at our Neighborhood Church staff prayer meeting, I asked people to remember my 2 year old son Aaron in prayer. He has never walked more than 5 steps. Today at work, my wife Esther called me, nearly hysterical, because Aaron was suddenly walking all over the house! Here is some footage to encourage you that God still answers prayers, and to thank you for praying.

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HOW GOD'S OMNISCIENCE AFFECTS YOUR FORGIVENESS ~ 10/16/09

On Sunday nights when I (Josh) run the open gym ministry for our church called “Pick-up-Play,” I never allow captains to pick teams. Instead, we all line up at the free-throw line to let the common equalizer called physics + nerves sort out the teams for us. There’s a simple reason for this crude form of grace: Very good players occasionally miss free throws, and very poor players often make them, whereas when captains pick teams, people with less skill inevitably get picked last. The long version of the ‘captain method’ ends up looking like this:

1)    The two best players are chosen to be team captains.

2)    Based on past experience with individual players, these captains first pick those whom they know to be the ‘most valuable,’ based on skill level, consistency and size.

3)    The last players picked are the worst players, and everyone knows it. Or, if there are enough reasonably skilled players present, the worst players don’t play at all, until they need a third team to play the winners of the first game… which, let’s face it, is just plain cruel.

4)    The final result under this system of team selection is that it’s better to be an ‘unknown’ player than a weekly regular. Because knowledge is power, and a well-known reputation is often unforgiving.

If limited human, experiential knowledge can affect other human beings to such a marginalizing degree, what about the knowledge of God? “Well do I know how treacherous you are,God says to each of us—“you were called a rebel from birth(Isaiah 48:8). God not only knows the ‘real you,’ “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven and hell” (Tozer, 56  The Knowledge of The Holy). Proportionally, shouldn’t this kind of divine knowledge promise an even greater sort of marginalization for human beings? If ‘knowledge is power,’ this kind of absolute knowledge = absolute power, and the implications of a God who wields both should be absolutely terrifying for us!

But here’s the funny thing… there’ve been many times in my life I’ve looked at people in the Family of God, contemporaries and historical figures alike, and just known strongly that God hasn’t picked His team based on ‘skillful living.’ Just look at the twelve men hand-picked by Jesus in the gospels!— Just look in the mirror… there’ve been many times I’ve looked and concluded I must have been one of those unknown ‘walk-ons’ who got to play because God just didn’t know any better when He was picking. Because if God really knew me— I’d be permanently benched on the sidelines! 

Have you ever felt like that? I know you have because, like me, you’ve habitually tried to hide your dark side from God as long as possible. Like the first 3-6 months of a dating relationship, we’re always working overtime to put the best version of ourselves on display. Have you ever felt like that? I know you have because, just like me, once you’ve realized God knows the real you, you’ve then resorted to bribery in an attempt to convince Him to keep letting you play, you’ve made deals, made promises to work on your will power and do better next time, until in exasperation you accept that God’s not interested in being manipulated. Until in desperation you give up the charade, in exhaustion, give up trying to be good and in defeat take off the perfectionist mask, so that in your heart you finally blurt out— "'God, I just can’t live the way you want me to. I'm sorry I keep letting you down.' So that God can then remind you of something astonishing…

'How could you let me down?’ He says— ‘You were never holding me up! But I will uphold YOU with MY righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)’” 

Somehow, God’s intimate and perfect knowledge of all we are and all we’ve done or will do does not keep Him from ‘picking us’ to be on His team. “He tells Peter of his denial, because He would have him know that all the weakness and the waywardness of that wayward heart were fully known to Him when first He called him from his fishing nets to be His servant” (Marcus Rainsford, 34  Our Lord Prays For His Own). But we forget. A lot. Every day we do. We fail and we beat ourselves up and then pray and then fail again and slowly begin to believe all over that the good first impression we originally conned God into must surely be wearing off by now. We slowly begin to believe the lie that every time we fail, God loses a little more confidence in us. We slowly begin to believe the lie that we’ve sinned so badly or so often that God will finally become so shocked and disillusioned He’ll toss us back into the faceless crowd like some undersized trout.

Someone has said, ‘we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught.’ Allow me to remind you of something fantastic— allow me to remind you of the real way God’s omniscience (absolute knowledge) affects your forgiveness…

 “And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. ‘For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness (HESED, GRACE!) shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee (Isaiah 54:10).’” (A.W. Tozer, 57  The Pursuit of God

When you fail, God isn’t shocked. He’s saddened, and there will be natural consequences, but He’s not surprised; He saw that sin coming from eternity past. If you’re a Christian, you’re safely on God’s team, and you’re already forgiven— for every sin— even the ones not yet committed. ‘If I’m already forgiven then why am I told to ask for forgiveness?’ you might wonder. Because though we possess forgiveness objectively and positionally (Once Christians, we’d go to heaven if we died without asking forgiveness), God can withhold the experience of feeling forgiven – until we ask. So ask— prayer is writing the check, it’s the ATM card God has given you to access and experience the joy and peace of your forgiveness account! 

God saw all our sins from the vantage point of heaven, gathered them all to the tipping point of Calvary and paid for them all past the breaking point of Christ’s humanity. God’s omniscience means He already knows every wretched secret. His forgiveness means each one was knowingly paid for long ago.  Grace means He has lavished goodness on us in light of both.

Surrounded By Grace,

Josh

DEFINING "HOME" ~ 10/6/09

"'It seems to me,' I found myself observing carefully, 'that when the environment gets wilder, god seems more wild as well.' How wild is your God?"
That was the question I asked in a recent post. How did you react to that? How do you find yourself reacting to the concept of a God who's not "safe" in regards to personal comfort? To a God who does not live in a suit and tie or an air-conditioned house, but somehow and somewhere else, somewhere beyond, somewhere that has different standards for a 'good life,' different rules for defining 'fair' and 'right' and 'just' than perhaps we do?

For many people, this is an upsetting idea. It messes with the concept of a God who is out to give you health and wealth if you’ll just correctly follow the rules and formula’s you think control Him. And that’s the core of it really; control. We want the assurance and comfort that comes with control, and there is such a comfort available to us, but only when we are not the ones in charge. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn. 14:27) Nothing the world offers, whether self-help formulas for success or any other false sense of control over your destiny, will give you true peace. Only as we surrender and live by faith in the goodness and love of God, on His terms, can we receive this kind of peace. “Faith doesn’t judge God by circumstances” says Erwin Lutzer. Faith trusts that God is in control despite them— even when the circumstances are wild ones. “How wild is your God?”

I was wondering the other day if maybe the problem really lies in perception—ours. Maybe the challenge is not so much in coming to grips with a God who is ‘wild’ and ‘crazy;’ maybe the real perception struggle is that our view of ‘normal,’ our view of ‘home,’ and our view of ‘wildness’ or ‘wilderness’ are all mixed up. Maybe God only seems “wild” in a negative sense when our understanding of ‘wilderness’ is backwards as well. Let me try to explain… Let’s say “home” is a dwelling place intended for safety and comfort. And let’s say “wilderness” is any time and place where we are separated from the safety and comfort of that intended dwelling place. Now, on a larger scale, if we consider earth and this life on earth as ‘home,’ it is only natural that anything and anyone that threatens or attempts to separate us from the safety and comfort we expect it to provide will be looked at as a threat, as threatening. God becomes a “wild,” threatening being, out to make your life miserable. But consider, for a moment, what happens if you and I share Abraham’s perspective? If we look at ourselves as pilgrims only, and this earthly life as our pilgrimage, and “home” as being somewhere/something else? In that scenario, where is the wilderness? It’s earth. It’s this life.

Abraham’s perspective is sound; but just to be sure, can we cross-reference that perspective

with the life of Jesus? What did He expect life on earth to be like? How comfortable and ‘safe’did He expect to be? “Earth had been a wilderness to Him,” says Marcus Rainsford. Even for Jesus, life on earth seems to have been wild, unsafe. Even in God’s dealings with His own Son there were times when the will of the Father had to lovingly overrule the will of God the Son when it came to pain.

“Earth had been a wilderness to Him, and He was about to be trodden in its winepress; the baptism with which He was to be baptized, and of which His soul was straitened till it should be accomplished, was about to begin. ‘He lifted up his eyes to heaven’; His rest was there, His throne was there, His angels were there” (Marcus Rainsford, Our Lord Prays For His Own). Jesus had as hard a life as anyone who has ever lived. But He lived it ‘with His eyes lifted to heaven’— because that’s where and how He ultimately defined “home.”

How about you? Where and how do you define ‘home?’ This is an important question because you can call a spade a spade, but if God calls it a hamster, you’re in for a long day of gardening. What does God say about this world?

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (Jn. 15:19) Christian, God does not hate you. The world does, and you are not of this world, it’s not your home! God is not the antagonist in your life story, trying to keep you from your potential, your best, your dreams; the “world” is— because this world is the wilderness, and heaven is your ultimate home. 

We can be grateful to God for all the safety and comfort given while on this journey through life, because these are good gifts of grace!— and we have permission to ask for them, and to do so boldly. Just remember that we ‘do not judge God by circumstances,’ but rather, like Jesus, and because of His power in us, we can live ‘with eyes lifted to heaven,’ trusting the promises of our Father that all things will one day be made right, and that the best is yet to come. 

Surrounded By Grace,
Josh
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~ 
WE ARE SURROUNDED BY GRACE!