God’s Promises: Worry or Wait?

**A weekly look at the promises of God**

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” ~ Matthew 6:25-26

I am terrible at this. Absolutely awful. I cannot tell you exactly when it started for me, but I am sure it became magnified when I began earning money. Money was the ticket. When I was no more than seven years old I began to bother my mother for baseball cards when we went to the pharmacy. I distinctly remember the price of a pack rising from 35 cents to 50 cents, but it had already been established that it would be worth it.
When I began gainful employment in high school, my money went toward purchasing the clothes that I wanted to wear. The money also went toward the purchase of food that I wanted to buy when our athletic team traveled to games. When a car became mine to use, money allowed me to go where I wanted to go. I cannot recall using money to meet any needs, merely my wants. That practice, in hindsight, began to grow into a sneaky lie: I was providing.
By my third year in college I was living off-campus and seeking employment that would allow me to contribute to rent, food, utilities, gas, and – of course – my wants. After all, you cannot date someone and spend all of your money on needs, right? The lie, as they say, snowballed after college. At that point I was preparing for marriage, a new place to live, and many other…needs?
After a while the dividing line, if there ever was one between my wants and needs, became hazy to the point of no recognition. Wants are needs and needs are needs. It became very easy for me to store up, much like the Israelites in the desert. “Just in case,” I believed, I should set something aside. But, more importantly, I should accumulate more stuff. That was what money gave me the freedom – no – the right to do.
The text above does not give a direct promise, but there is an implied promise of God within the command not to worry: God’s got this.
A few verses later Jesus comes closer to spelling out the promise when he questions our flawed thinking, asking the rhetorical question of whether or not God will “much more clothe” us. Well, of course God will do that. In the account of Creation, God clearly delineates the importance of Adam and Eve. They were made in God’s image as are we. We are given everything that God has made and yet, like our first parents, we think it is not enough. Not only was the first sin an act of direct disobedience, but it was an act of asserting independence: “Thanks, God, but I got this.”
How often do we do that now? How about “daily” as an answer? And that would not be often enough to describe all of us. We misinterpret a command to exercise dominion by changing the word to “domination.” “Accumulation” would also fit the bill. But that is not the goal, it never was. There is a point made by Jesus – familiar to us – at the end of the above passage:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
That is your focus. That is your priority. That is your call. Seek – actively look for and pursue – his kingdom. God’s kingdom. What Jesus is pointing out to us is the very simple truth that we cannot see God’s kingdom when we are so busy building ours. Simple. If I stack up bricks all around me, how can I see anything else?
You, like me, don’t need all that you have. You probably don’t even want all that you have. So why is it there?
Let us throw off everything that hinders and…run…the race marked out before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) We don’t run well when we look behind us. We don’t run well when we glance off to the side. We don’t run well when we stop to pick up more stuff. No, we run well when we look straight ahead and trust that the One who began with us will also give us all that we need to finish.
Earlier this year I flopped down on my bed, resigned to have a conversation with God. I began in prayer almost flippantly, “Ok, God, what do you want to tell me?”
I love you.
“That’s it?!”
Isn’t that enough?
End of conversation.
God is always enough.
That is his promise.


Red Letters: Did Jesus Really Say That?

In the past several years there has been a growing movement of Christians who take on social matters with a Biblical lens. Pushing back against a trend among believers to avoid matters of politics and social justice, Christ followers began to look with a renewed lens. They have come to be known by many as “Red Letter Christians,” followers of Christ who form their responses according to the words of Christ – the letters found in red in many Bibles.

This is not a new approach, of course. But, with ever-changing social issues and cultural complexities, it is good to return to the One who stepped into our world from a heavenly home. Talk about a culture shock. We know that Jesus did not distance himself from the problems of the day, nor did he take a “no comment” approach. Jesus spent time with those who were sick and culturally outcast, he overturned tables within religious institutions, and he addressed the matter of taxation (several times).

Noting my own growing interest in cultural matters as well as the failure of many church bodies to address them, I would like to devote one post each week to the red letters. I picked up in my reading with the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). This parable falls in the middle of a lengthy discourse recorded by Matthew. It falls soon before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, and much of the discourse is identified as pointing to the end times.

In this parable, Jesus notes that ten virgins waited for the bridegroom. This reference points toward the coming of Christ. As we understand it, we see it as the return of Christ. Five of the virgins were prepared with enough oil for their lamps, but the other five were not. There were no street lamps, no flashlights and no cell phones to light the way. If you had enough oil, you could keep your lamp burning through the night.

All of them fell asleep while waiting. All of them heard the call at midnight that the bridegroom had arrived. Only five of them were ready. Those who were unprepared asked for oil from those who were ready. The response to their request was “No.”

In the study Bible where I read this parable, I find this note: “When Christ returns, preparedness cannot be shared or transferred.” I cannot find any room to argue that. What my father and mother believe cannot speak for me on that day. What my pastor or neighbor believes cannot be my ticket. Nor will my faith speak for my children. There are no coattails on the path to eternity. While most may accept the position that each person will account for their own actions, I find another note more unsettling.

The analogy of oil for lamps as used by Jesus comes with another note in the study Bible: “Torches required large amounts of oil in order to keep burning, and the oil had to be replenished about every 15 minutes.” That’s a lot of preparation! In that regard, I would have to admit to falling asleep and being unprepared in this sense: I do not do a faith check that often.

I do not believe in salvation by works; we can read that we are saved “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But we can also read that our faith, without action, is dead (James 2:17). So what does that mean for us? How can we be prepared?

I believe that a verse in I Peter 4 points us in the direction of our answer: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – ” (verse 3a). We cannot sleep on our faith. We cannot become complacent and carry on in our old ways. We cannot subscribe to “cheap grace” by sitting in our sin.

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. ~ Proverbs 28:13

He who does not come prepared for the bridegroom will find the door shut. We don’t like to think about that. We like our loving Jesus, our loving God. But we cannot miss the fact that we serve a just God and a living Jesus. We do not know when Christ returns, but we do know we must be ready.

The enemy whispers the same version of the same lie over and over again: “Did God really say…?” In order to know how to combat the lie, we should make sure that we know what God really says.

I was thinking about the note on the 15 minutes. I quickly wanted to brush off what I was thinking: “No one should have to do a ‘faith check,’ a ‘readiness check’ every 15 minutes. That’s silly.” Then I thought about this: if my child was ill and needed a dose of medicine every 15 minutes in order to live, would I ever miss one?

We must be aware. We have spent “enough time” in our life doing as we pleased. We must make sure that we now spend time doing as we’re commanded. Be ready.


Finding God In: Playoff Baseball

Outside of the fan bases in Boston and St. Louis, you may not realize that baseball is still being played. Yes, even in the month when the sun sets at dinner time and the occasional snow showers fly, teams are still fighting for the title of World Series champions. In the four-week quest for the title of champion, individual plays and players are placed in the spotlight like no other time of year.

Just last night, in the first game of the World Series, two such events came under scrutiny. In the first inning of the game, the umpire called a player out even though the ball had clearly been dropped. All of the umpires had to converge in order to correct the call before the excitable fans in Boston corrected them. After the game, several people who watched the game drew attention to the possibility of a foreign substance in the glove of the pitcher for Boston – a clear violation. Everything receives extra attention and it becomes time to be known as a hero or a scapegoat.

Just over two weeks ago there was a critical moment for a player named Juan Uribe. If you follow baseball as I do, you already know that name. But short of the die-hard fans, Uribe is relatively unknown. He’s made a fine career for himself by playing his role on several teams, but his career is altogether average by professional baseball standards. He’s never been the best player on his team and he’s never been asked to shoulder the weight of any team’s success. In the two seasons prior to this one, you could have fairly asserted that his career was coming to a close. He had enough experience to be valuable, but his production barely merited a place on the team.

His professional approach remained a credit to Uribe and helped to justify his position on the team. Playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Uribe took on a role of mentor to those who needed it and his production began to increase as well. However, there were several players in the lineup who drew much more attention, and rightly so. Thus it came as no surprise that Uribe, in a critical position of a playoff game, was asked to bunt. For those of you who are less familiar with baseball, Uribe was asked to sacrifice himself. He did not need to get a hit, he just needed to knock the ball a few feet in front of him to advance another runner. If he could do that much, someone else would pick up the critical piece of hitting the ball in order to bring the base runner home to score.

There was only one problem: Uribe was failing. Twice he bunted the ball into foul territory. If he continued this approach and fouled off the baseball again, he would be out and the base runner would not advance. He had four chances to make it work, but none of them had gone according to plan. Now what? Well, the smart play would be to allow Uribe the freedom to swing. The team could not risk the chance of Uribe recording an out attempting to bunt. He would have to swing.

He did.

Uribe sent the ball soaring into the outfield, over the fence not to be caught – a home run! Instead of sacrificing himself, Uribe had given his team the lead. The lead held up and the Los Angeles Dodgers advanced to the next round of the playoffs. Uribe was a hero in spite of his failed attempts, in spite of his past mistakes, and in spite of his previous anonymity.

As Christ followers, we are often content to bunt. We cloak ourselves in the mantle of humility and say, “Someone else will do it.” It’s not that we are not called to humility, but far too often we have simply relabeled our doubts as “humility.” We, like the pre-restored Peter, are caught up in our past failures and mistakes. Even as we, like Peter, have a conversation with the risen Christ, we wonder why he challenges our love for him.

Maybe it’s because he has bigger plans for us. The risen Christ told Peter that he would be the rock upon which Christ would build his church. Think about that. Jesus decided to take Peter, the Jesus-denying apostle, and make him the foundation for the church. Bear in mind that there had been no “church” before this. Jesus took off the bunt sign and was letting Peter swing.

2,000 years later, all over the world, the Church remains. I would like to encourage you to stop looking at your past failures. I would like to ask you to stop expecting someone else to do it. I would like to ask you to believe, even if it seems unlikely, that Christ has big plans for you in his Kingdom. The reason he may ask you about your love for him is not just to hear where you stand, but so that he can remind you where he stands.

He loves you, and he wants you to dare to be used.

Swing away.