Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bruce Almighty

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" 
Isaiah 55:8.

I recently watched Bruce Almighty and was pleased that the producers got so much right on several levels. I tried to remember. Was there as much uproar over God being portrayed as a black man (Morgan Freeman was a great choice) as opposed to being a black woman like in The Shack? I don't think so. The deeper message I saw portrayed in the movie is what many in the Church really believe about God. They're deists.

"God is watching us...from a distance." I date myself. The song, From a Distance and made popular by Bette Midler was sung in my church and no one, me included, jumped up and screamed, "Heretic!" Deism teaches that God created Heaven and earth, put man in charge and then stepped back and took a hands-off stance. We're on our own.

This is what happened to Bruce. Convinced he could do a better job than God he gets the opportunity. The outcome is predictable. Bruce misuses his power to get what he wants: revenge on bullies who beat him up, his dog potty trained AND the coveted news anchor desk job.

Warned by God that he'll not be able to override anyone's free will, Bruce discovers he's powerless to obtain the one thing that is important and now out of his grasp - his girlfriend's love. His feeble attempt to use supernatural persuasion only makes him look even more foolish in her eyes. Through the whole ordeal Bruce learns how true Isaiah 55:8 is. When it comes to thinking and acting like God, we're clueless.

For me the most moving scene was when Bruce accepts a mop from God. Together Bruce and God flow in perfect harmony like the unforced rhythms of grace. Now partnered with God in what He's doing, Bruce works together with Him to clean up the world's messes; so in sync it was as if they are one. That's how relationship with God should be.

At the end, Bruce, just like God, is willing to release the one he loves who no longer wants him. Bruce's transformation to being more like God comes when he prays that his ex-girl will find happiness and love, even if it isn't with him and releases her. Bruce learns the price of unconditional love.

I don't think those associated with the movie were Christians but that was no barricade for God (maybe even a good thing). His influence permeates everything, everywhere, even Hollywood. Too bad I spent so many years boycotting movies in an attempt to be holy and righteous. I missed out on seeing God work under the radar.

How about you? Which movies gave you a fresh perspective about God? Were you surprised when they didn't fall into the category labeled Christian? Do you think God can use unbelievers to glorify Him? How does this change your opinion about whom or what God can employ to get His point across?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Brothers Recordkeeper Part 2

"But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends" Luke 15:29 (emphasis mine).

Unlike his younger brother's ledger that was in the red, Number One Son's books were solidly in the black. For years he maintained meticulous records just in case something like this happened and it's a good thing that he had. He was The Good Son with the stats to back up his claim.

This portion of the story reminds me of another parable, The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:16). Once again the faithful felt gypped. Like Elder Brother Recordkeeper, this group believed their longer term of service in the vineyard warranted more recompense than the latecomers...especially the One Hour Wonders at the end.

I think the reason that some Christians want to see the wicked punished has nothing to do with justice. By golly, we sacrificed. We gave up all kinds of stuff, toed the line. We know what a good Christian should look like and we worked hard to live up to it. We've slaved away and have enough evidence to convince sinners and God alike that we're saved and going to heaven. Neither is impressed.

There's a joke that goes something like this. A man died and found himself outside the pearly gates with Peter. (How he ever got stuck with that thankless job no one knows.) "What do I need to do to get in?" he asked. "Hmmm," Peter mused. "You need 100 points."

The man was ecstatic. This would be easier than he'd ever imagined. "Well," he began confidently with just a touch of bragging, "I am a Pastor. Been one for over fifty years. Only missed one Sunday in the pulpit. That was the week my poor Momma, bless her heart, died. I'm sure that won't count against me."

Peter thought for a moment. "Ok, that's one point."

The man was appalled...only one point? "Uh," he stammered, "I...I...gave pretty nearly ten percent of my salary after taxes. That's what I got in my pocket you know. I ran the county jail ministry for the past 20 years, not that those low life criminals really appreciated my hard work and sacrifice."

Peter licked the tip of his pencil and scribbled on his clipboard. "Half a point."

"Half a point!" the man exploded. Things were not looking very good right now.

Suddenly another man arrived at the gate. The pastor recognized him as the guy who ran the gas station in town. He was what clerics call a "C&E Christian" - one who warms the pew two times a year, Christmas and Easter. He smoked and swore a lot also. Flipping Peter a wave the man walked right through the gates.

The pastor was flummoxed. If he wasn't already deceased he'd have dropped dead on the spot from shock. "What's that all about?" he demanded. "I know him. He gets to stroll right in and I've got to prove I have enough points to enter?"

"Yep," Peter smiled, "he doesn't play that game."

How about you? Is your salvation based on recordkeeping? Is it all about doing the right things in order to assure entrance into Heaven? Maybe even get a crown or two? Do you get frustrated or even angry when those without your splendid track record seem to get the lion's share of God's favor? I do sometimes.

God's not in the business of bookkeeping. It's too complicated, time consuming and no fun at all. It would ruin His party. Jesus took care of this. He balanced our account once and for all. Our part is to believe that He cooked the books in our favor, and accept it's done. It's time to stop wasting time trying to balance the ledger ourselves and come in and join the party.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Brothers Recordkeeper Part 1

"I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me one of your hired men" Luke 15:19.

This would work. His father couldn't resist an offer like this. Actually, Dad HAD to accept this deal because the boy was out of options. When it came to keeping the books, the younger son's ledger was seriously in the red. This however, would put him back in the black...eventually.

We do the same thing. We craft bail-outs with God because we mistakenly believe that He's in the recordkeeping business. We know there are no free lunches. Salvation must surely come with some strings attached. We're so wrong to think this way.

We misunderstand our Father's other-centered, self-giving love in the same way the Prodigal misjudged his father's. God, just like this boy's father, isn't looking for hired hands, but for sons.

Sonship-the term makes us queasy because we're focused on why this just can't be so. We've invented our own concept of what He considers the "perfect kid." It's no surprise that our ideas don't even come close. God's not fooled. He KNOWS we've missed the mark by more than the proverbial country mile. Still we look to cut a deal.

"God if You do X, then I promise to do Y." If that's not working or good enough we'll start with A and work through the whole alphabet until we run out of letters or drop dead trying, figuratively speaking. Exhaustion and resentment sets in. This is just too hard.

Trying to balance the books is an exercise in frustration. You don't burn calories, just brain cells. You never know how much you owe and every time you think you just might have the books balanced, you mess up...AGAIN.

God's not helping either. He won't tell you what you owe. It's not because He's mean and likes to keep you twisting in the wind, He doesn't know Himself. He chooses not to remember. Your ledger is awash with scarlet, but it's the blood of Jesus and not red ink. All debts are paid in full. We just have to believe this.

If I were in the Prodigal's sandals I'd have been dumbfounded. I wouldn't have believed my eyes or ears. Dad doesn't give two hoots that I squandered the inheritance he worked so hard to give me? Now, instead of a fit of rage he throws a party in my honor? When's the other shoe going to drop?

Fortunately for him, and us, neither his father nor our Heavenly Father have any "other shoes" to drop on us. Cognitive dissonance rears its head again. How can He not be upset. If we were in His place we wouldn't be so quick to release the past without at least some wise crack or derogatory remark.

If we want to keep a ledger for God, He'll allow it, not that He'll pay it any mind. If we want to we can keep crafting deals we can't keep. If somehow we manage to pull it off, we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. He'll wait. Eventually we'll be bankrupt with nothing to offer as collateral and that's fine with Him. Maybe by then we'll get the point-God's not looking for good deals or hired hands. He wants sons who are priceless. So costly He paid for them Himself.

How about you? When have you found yourself trying to get on with God as a hired hand as opposed to accepting your role as a son? If you reached the breaking point without successfully holding up your side of the "deal"- what happened? How if at all did that change your view of God?

We've all tried bargaining with God, and it usually doesn't work out as planned, sometimes worse. If you're discouraged, take heart. God has already accepted you as a son. Pitch the ledger and come in and join the party.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" Rom. 8:31

Happy Two Hundred and Forty-First Birthday America!

Last night the sound of early fireworks boomed throughout my neighborhood. Today, in celebration of the Fourth of July, Atlanta hosts "The Peachtree" the world's largest 10K race. On the Mall in Washington D.C. people will picnic as they wait for the annual concert and fireworks display. Other major cities like Boston and New York will follow suit.

On a smaller scale all across the country cities and towns will have parades and special holiday activities. Families and friends will gather for picnics, cookouts and celebrating because today's a special day. It's America's birthday.

In his letter to his wife Abigail dated July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote that after much serious debate and hard work, the Declaration of Independence had been finalized. The decision to formally separate from England had been made, but none expected the British to pack their bags and leave without a fight. Adams believed the fledgling nation would survive and that the events of July 2nd should be remembered by future generation with much fanfare.

It's this letter than some point to as the foundation for all the festivities surrounding the Fourth of July. However, whether intentional or not, an important portion of this correspondence is overlooked or purposely ignored. Adams wrote:

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more" (emphasis mine).

Adams insights are remarkable. Although he wrote of celebrations spanning the continent, the thirteen colonies only comprised a relatively small portion of what's now the east coast of the U.S. The lands to the west were uncharted and outside the boundaries of the colonies. Yet today, Adams words are fulfilled - from one end of the country to the other, people are celebrating.

More important is the portion of this often quoted letter which is used to justify America's exuberant remembrance of its birthday. Adams declared that in addition to all the festivities, this was also to be a day to remember that it was God whose help was need to found the nation and that He was to be thanked for His goodness to us.

Involving God in almost anything today is considered politically incorrect and worse, embarrassing. Those who came to settle this nation, many for religious freedom, are now characterized as opportunistic conquerors. It is true that mistakes were made, wrong things happened. Because they believed God was behind the establishment of this nation, He gets a bad rap also and is better off left out of the mix.

Perhaps our nation would experience a greater sense of unity and brotherhood if we heeded Adams admonition. In addition to all the fun and games a time for reflecting on how our country came into existence with the help of God so freely acknowledged at that time, should cause Americans to take a step back and ponder. If this is so, what have we done with this gift of freedom we've been blessed with? Are we really "one nation under God" or an ever expanding cadre of splinter groups who neither need nor want Divine Guidance?

The Founding Father's weren't perfect and certainly not a homogenous group. They were opinionated, they disagreed often and didn't always like each other. However, they recognized that if this experiment we call the Republic of the United States was going to work, it would take more than human willpower, grit and determination. They sought help from a higher and greater Authority.

Paul's words weren't written specifically to the United States, but they contain an indisputable principle that our nation's founders counted on for success. Being on God's side was critical if the nation was ever to get off the ground and succeed. Despite their differences the framers of the Declaration of Independence looked to God for solutions and found them. We'd be wise to follow their lead.