Of Mountains and Microbes

Jesus said, “If you only have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell this mountain to go throw itself in the sea and it will.”

Mountains are bigger than microbes.

If Jesus intended us to have no fear of the mountains we have to climb, he certainly intends us to have no fear of the microbes we have to kill. In this season of exhausting inactivity, the kind of boredom that William Blake called “rage spread thin,” Jesus is working out a kind of exercise of faith in we who believe. Just like floor exercises in which the muscles are strained by maintaining a position and standing still, there is a kind of intense workout that Jesus is doing in our hearts right now. Stretch and hold it until your core quivers, and when you’re done, you will have muscles that weren’t there before.

In the patience of this moment, God is building:

Hearts that fear him alone

Minds that don’t worry

Lives lived on mission rather than in self-satisfaction, and

Prayers that are powerful

We are not victims in this moment any more than an athlete is a victim of the gym. Have faith. Don’t be afraid.

 

If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell that microbe, _Go jump in the ocean,_ and it will..png

Is God Doing This?

An Edgy Question

crucifix.jpgI want to ask the question that is in the back of the minds of a lot of religious adherents right now, and perhaps even in the mind of a few skeptics. Are the terrible things that are happening in the world right now a direct activity of God?

Australia was just ravaged by fires, which destroyed over 32,000 square miles and over 1000 homes, and killed a couple dozen people and millions of animals. Immediately on its heels, locusts plague Africa and the Middle East – I mean like biblical quantities of locusts. Look it up. The story has been buried behind the coronavirus, which has now claimed 9,000 lives with a frightening mortality rate and brought the earth to a grinding halt.

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To top it all off, there was an 5.7 earthquake in Salt Lake City, Utah on March 18th, which normally might not raise eyebrows, but this one knocked the trumpet out of the hand of the gold statue of Angel Moroni standing atop the spire of the pompous Mormon Temple in the heart of their homeland. Even without all the rest of today’s chaos, that one would certainly make the orthodox zealots call out to the heavens, “Nice one, Lord!”

So the question is a bit surprisingly a rational one – is God mad at us?

Surprising at least for those raised on a Western, naturalistic view of the world, a “scientific worldview” we call it, although by that we mean committed to presuppositions which empirical science cannot substantiate. That is – we assume there’s nothing supernatural, so science can only give natural explanations.

The problem, Science, is that most of us, most of humanity, believes in God. Not only that, many gods, angels, demons, an afterlife, miracles, ghosts, and all the rest of it. Most – a majority – of all humanity present and past. Scientists even now speculate that some part of evolutionary history wired us to be religious, even if there were no God out there to be religious about. But whether there is a God is a subject of another post. Here I want to ask, for those who do believe in God, is God actually, you know, doing this?

Some religious people, those with especially guilty consciences, assume that when something bad happens to them, it’s because of something they did. Karma is essentially the same idea. But the disasters befalling the world are too broad for even the worst narcissist to assume they’re causing it all.

So is it because of us, all of us? And do we have the power to change world events through our behavior, through repentance?

It Has Happened Before

Clearly, readers of the Bible can see, this jibes with what the Bible says God has done in the past.

God says to King Solomon in 2nd Chronicles 7:

13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Repeatedly God forewarns of doom for disobedience and reward for faithfulness. When Israel is taken into slavery in Babylon, they say it was because King Solomon wasn’t faithful. When Jesus’ disciples come across a man born blind, they ask Jesus, “Is it because he sinned or his parents sinned that he was born this way?” (John 9:2). In the book of Revelation, God even warns rejection of churches that are not faithful, because God disciplines the people he loves (Revelation 3:14-20).

Two Options

However, Jesus’ answer to his disciples about the man born blind is that his blindness is not a result of anyone’s sin. His blindness is an opportunity for God’s power to be shown through him. Likewise, in the book of Job, a man named Job loses everything – his family, his wealth, and his health. His friends gather around and tell him he must have sinned. God shows up at the end of the narrative and vindicates Job – in fact, he hadn’t done anything wrong.

So Answer #1: Bad things are not always tied to God’s punishment. There’s a biblical basis for saying this. Furthermore, those who believe in Jesus believe that he died on the cross for our sins, so we are now completely forgiven. There is no anger left for us, and God does not destroy his children as punishment. Jesus aims to shape us in to healthy, loving, faithful people; he did not come to condemn us (John 3:17).

But, Answer #2: The terrors of this world are in every way a tool in the hands of God to lead the world to repentance. However, rather than causing suffering willfully, I think the Bible suggests that they come about in another way. Romans 1 says that God’s worst punishment for us is to let us have our own way (Romans 1:21-24). He “hands us over to our lusts,” it says. Allowing us to live in a broken world without his intervention is its own punishment. We live in a horribly broken world, and as we reject God and push God away, we can hardly complain that he allowed bad things to happen. He’s literally done exactly what we asked for. The consequence, sadly, is a world that doesn’t look like heaven. The hard part for those who follow Jesus is that we are all in this together, and the brokenness of the world drags us all down.

Our Hope

There are three places in which to put our hope:

  1. If you choose to invite Jesus into your life, he will immediately begin a remodel that will turn something broken into something beautiful. You can do that through a simple prayer – Jesus, I invite you in. Please take my life, forgive me, and lead me.
  2. When we follow Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we get to witness miracles. Jesus empowers his followers in the world to do exactly the same kind of things that he did, and that brings people out of brokenness and into healthy life. Against the backdrop of a world of storm clouds, a light shines through in the lives of the faithful.
  3. There will come a day when this present darkness will be chased away by light, and we will enter a world where there is no more mourning or crying or pain, and every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). Until then, we work to build the kingdom of God on earth; on that day we will rest.

Don’t be afraid. Jesus is still on the throne. When you believe in him and follow after him, he will save you. He’s not out to punish you and he doesn’t hold grudges. His business is forgiveness and redemption. Whatever origin story we believe in about the catastrophes of the world and the coronavirus, let them sharpen our minds and point us towards the one in whom we find true hope: Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The Viral Blessings Challenge

We’re going to change the world this week with a little challenge.

chris-de-tempe-6Tl5Kl7JEQg-unsplash.jpgUp and Down.

When I ride roller coasters with my kids, I grab hold of the handle bars, make a face like someone who is having dental surgery, and hold my breath until it’s over. My kids throw their hands up in the air, laugh, and scream about how they think my seatbelt is coming loose. We don’t ride the same way.

As our society does somersaults this season, there are two different ways to handle it.

Some are holding on tight. They’ve raided Costco and stocked up unnecessary tissue. They have dozens of water bottles, though their sinks work fine. They’ve dumped stocks and they’ve stopped spending, clinging to every dollar.

Personally, this week, if I have to go to a grocery store for essentials, I’ll try a new spiritual discipline. I won’t shop for myself. I’m going to buy the gift cards that they often sell near the registers, and fill them with small amounts of money. Then, after the employees at the registers hand them to me, I’m going to give them back to the employees as a gift and thank them for what they do. I’m going to tell them that Jesus is watching over them. These are people who are serving as modern day caregivers tending to the people who are afraid of the roller coasters. You can do the same.

It’s the “Viral Blessings Challenge.” Pay attention to public health announcements and don’t go out into public spaces when you don’t have to. It’s best to wait this thing out, but when we do encounter one another, let’s fill those encounters with grace. If you have a blessing-filled encounter with someone, send me the story at jim @ reallife.la

An Open-Handed Life

Jesus changes everything about the way you approach the season of sickness and anxiety.

With Jesus, I approach life with open hands. He will provide me whatever I need, and I don’t have to cling to anything. I can throw my hands up as we roll over these hills. It may not be filled with the same fun-filled laughter you’d hear at an amusement park, but it’s filled with freedom. I don’t have to worry about life, or what I will eat, or what I will wear, because my Father in heaven knows what I need. I’m not hoarding anything.

With Jesus, I approach death with open hands. I assure you, I’m going to die some day – there’s nothing to wonder about there. But whereas some people have to approach that reality like it’s a cliff they are jumping off blind, I approach it knowing that there is a huge party waiting for me on the other side of that door. I don’t have to cling to life, because what’s in store for me will be even better.

A Prayer

If your recent days have been filled with anxiety, here’s a simple little prayer you can pray. Say it by yourself or with your family. Say it out loud if you want.

Jesus, I’ve done life on my terms instead of yours. I’ve clung to things out of fear, and I’ve lived for myself.

I don’t want to be filled with anxiety anymore. Protect me from temptation and keep me away from evil.

I give my life to you with open hands, and I trust you to take care of me. Forgive me and start me on a new path.

Now teach me how you want me to live.

If you’d like me to pray with you and for you, or if you want to talk about Jesus, send me an email at jim @ reallife.la.

The coming days may still be a roller coaster. That’s not something you can control. But you do have complete control over how you ride.

Colors

I went to a prayer meeting tonight. During the session, a guy was supposed to pray for me while I prayed – both of us silent. As I prayed, I saw images of the stained glass in our sanctuary, and then bigger images of stained glass like the Rose Window in Notre Dame. When we finished, I asked him if he heard anything in prayer.

He said, “I saw a crazy amount of color. There was color everywhere, like splashed on the walls. Then I saw cans of paint all around, and Jesus picked up a can of paint and began to pour it. And he was waiting on you to pick a color. You hesitated, and you took a long time to pick it. But when you finally picked one and poured it alongside his, it was royal blue. You two painted a big wall together, and on the wall I saw the word ‘LIFE’ in all caps and in white. Then you two sat on the wall enjoying what you had done together.

Does that mean anything to you?”

RLLA in blue