January 19, 2011

Forgive us our Debts

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding - Romans 13 7-8

I think I've been in debt of some sort for over ten years. Now, some of that debt was your typical "credit card debt" which I would pay off fairly regularly. But two years of unemployment and two years of under-employment later, I wasn't paying off the credit cards so much as living off them, something I'm still feeling the effects of today.

And the sad thing is my response to money owed is most often a very child-like behavior: "If I just keep my eyes closed, maybe the debt will go away."

I will say there have been times when money has multiplied, when money has appeared when I most needed it... and then there were the times when I missed a deadline to pay and ended up in a worse situation.

When we pray the Lord's prayer, we (protestants) say "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." I wish that God would swoop in sometimes and forgive a debt, but I'm not entirely sure that is what He promised to do. As you read the scripture above, it doesn't say "pay taxes when you feel like it and when someone you like is in office." No, it says if you owe taxes, pay them. I suppose God would similarly say "If you bought it on a credit card, pay the bill."

Being a Christian doesn't mean we can close our eyes to our responsibilities. God wants us especially to honor our debts and commitments, to show the world that we are righteous people who don't ignore the rules.

The interesting thing about debt in the US is that once you've paid it off (and waited a few years) it will be removed from your credit history. Wow. How nice is that to know that seven or so years after my last debt payment, my report will be clean.

And that actually reminds me of the other scripture that pops up when you enter "debt," where they talk about the Year of Jubilee. Now in this year all debts are cancelled, which is absolutely awesome. I would love for someone to have come to me five years ago and say "Ok, don't worry, it's all cancelled. You're good." But at least to know that at some point in the future my credit history will be wiped clean... that's forgiveness of my debt right there. That's the credit bureau saying "You get to start over now. Congratulations."

What an amazing thing is that? To think that forgiveness exists within "the system." And I believe that's because God's love has come into this world, whether people are aware of it or not, because His people cry out "Lord forgive us our debt." God doesn't cancel our debt, he never cancels it--Jesus died on the cross to forgive us our debt, not make it go away. We are still guilty of our sins. It is only through Christ's death on the cross that our negative balance can be brought back to "zero."

I still have things to learn about handling money. I think many of us do. I believe that more people are in debt than really realize it. But I also believe that if we pray "Lord forgive us our debt," and then ask Him to help us make better budgets, look to where we can cut corners, and even find ways to generate additional income, He will forgive us our debts. We must still pay them back, but we will be forgiven for the error of spending more than we made. And we can use that as a glimpse into the debt that Jesus paid for us. If having someone offer you the money to get out of debt would make you the happiest person ever, imagine how we'll feel when we get to Heaven and realize how deep our earthly debt is, and how we could never ever pay it off--without Christ, who gave His life so that we would have our debt forgiven.

Lord, forgive me my debt, for I have sinned. I have spent more than I earned, and I have closed my eyes to my responsibilities. Help me to make the proper decisions about money, to face my debt head-on, and do whatever it takes to pay it down. I thank you that even through this worldly system there exists a concept of debt forgiveness, which is just a small, tiny glimpse into the price that Jesus paid for us, so that our spiritual debts may be forgiven. Amen.

January 18, 2011

Life in Solitary

When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. - Luke 8:28-30

When I did my Bible word search this morning I put in the word "solitary." I was fully expecting to get one or two verses about how Jesus went to a solitary place to pray, and I did get those results (Matt 14:13, Mark 1:35, Mark 6:32, Luke 4:42)

But an interesting addition in the NIV translation is this verse in Luke 8. I checked it out in about 5 other translations and none of them use the word "solitary." They all say he went into the wilderness, or he went into the desert. 

To be fair, I did also just look up the Mark 6:32 verse in those 5 translations and only one of them uses "solitary" as well. The versions range from "a secluded place where they could be alone" to actually also saying "the desert."

Now a good Bible scholar would go looking up the Greek but as I've never done that and I will have to actually go to work at some point, I'm not sure that I'm up for it today. But what I find so interesting is this:

Where did Jesus go when he needed to meet with God: Solitary
Where did the demon-possessed man go: Solitary

If A=B and C=B, then perhaps we can say that the demon-possessed man actually went to the one place where he could find God?

I don't know, this is a new idea to me too, so I'm not sure how well it holds up, but I think about how, when we're deeply in pain, or deeply in sin, we tend to retreat from the world, from our friends and family, and while we may ardently desire their comforting presence, we may not feel able or worthy to receive their love. So we retreat to the wilderness of our own minds, where the shoulda, coulda, wouldas swirl like sandstorms behind our eyelids. We are in pain, we are lost, we are lonely, we are worthless.

And yet it is there where God meets us. It is often when we are in the wilderness, when we are in that solitary place where we finally open ourselves up to the world, let down our shields and our self-preservation and say "Look! I can't do this. I have no ability to handle this life by myself. I give up."

And at that moment of vulnerability, when we have flung our arms wide before the ravenous lions of hatred and disease and death that God says "Finally!" and comes in to where we have previously kept Him out. And He lifts us gently out of the pit, past the lions, and lays us down in the grass by the cool river.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? When you were ready to give up, to succumb to the lies in your head, to accept that your life would never change, that you could not ever get out of debt, that you would never find anyone who understands you and your needs...

And did God meet you there?

If He hasn't yet, He will. 

January 14, 2011

Be Free

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

It's interesting how willing we are to disqualify ourselves. As the Bible says, all sin is equal, whether it be having angry thoughts about someone or killing them. From lying to adultery, there is no "better" sin to commit, no one sin that will get you a lesser sentence. God's kinda fastidious that way. You sin, you're out. Period.

That's where God's forgiveness comes in. Because God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for all the sins we will ever commit, and that allows God to wash away our sin with Jesus' righteousness. And that means we can rest assured that we are free of that sin.

And yet we are a people of dwellers. We dwell on our sin. We listen to that voice in our ear that says "Sure you want to be a pastor, but you used to watch porn. They'll never accept you." or  "You want to be in leadership? You stole money from your mother's purse when you were 11. You'll never be trustworthy again."

Ok those are random examples, but you get my drift, right? I can say that I personally have many many many (many) sins which get thrown up in my face by the enemy when I want to walk forward with my life and do good things. But it does not do to dwell!

Jesus is the Son in the above verse. Through Him, we are set free from our sin. We need to ask for it, and accept it, but we will receive forgiveness and freedom. Then we just have to walk in it.

Someone said something very interesting in church a few weeks ago, how people up in heaven will be entirely, completely honest. So I can imagine a heaven full of people saying "I killed a man, but God forgave my sins through Christ and here I am!" "I cheated on my 2nd grade test," "I told my mom I was doing homework but we were really having sex" "I lied to my wife when she asked if I was a virgin when we got married" on and on and on... but they will always end with "but I'm free from that because of the blood of the lamb!"

Sometimes I think everyone should go through a 12-step program, because one of the steps is owning up to how you hurt other people. Perhaps if we didn't try so hard to keep all of our sins hidden, we wouldn't dwell on them so much, and we would truly walk in the freedom that God has given us.

Of course that does rather presuppose that we're not committing murder and then telling everyone about it. Let's try step 1: do your best not to sin. Step 2: if you do, confess it to God for His forgiveness. Step 3: accept His forgiveness. Step 4: do not be afraid of sharing it, in the right circumstances, with others, so that it may shore up their own faith.

And then you will truly feel the freedom God has given you.

Now I just need to take my own advice. :)

January 13, 2011


How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. -Psalm 119:9

I'm not entirely sure this verse would have helped me much when I was young. Not to say the Bible isn't helpful or applicable, but I think I would have read this and said "yeah, but what if he's really hot?" or "But what if we do ____, that doesn't count, right?"

I watched Easy A last night (and have now worked it into both my blogs and my Facebook page, hooray). And it brought to my mind the fact that high school really does seem to be all about who's losing their virginity. Maybe not in quite as dramatic a way, but still.

And yet, God calls us to be sexually pure. This is soooo not an area of life in which I excel.

On the other hand, looking back at that verse, it's not like it's entirely unhelpful. In fact, if you say "Ok, what does living by God's word mean?" It means actually reading the Bible, and studying it, and applying it to our own lives. It means understanding that God made us sexual creatures but that does not mean that we have to have sex. It means that as we grow a greater understanding of who God is and how much He loves us, we will have the desire to be more like Christ and less like our crazy, sex-filled selves. (And here's a hint--you can replace that last descriptor with sinful, arrogant, alcoholic, angry, etc. This doesn't just work for horny teenagers.)

And even to the kids who think "yeah but I've already done ______, now I want to do it again, and it's all I can think of, and you've got to be kidding me that I can't do this again? It's gonna kill me" well yeah, it might be difficult (that's kinda why we're supposed to abstain from it in the first place), but God has grace. If you truly say "God I know I shouldn't ________, and I want to live according to your will, but I just have no willpower right now," it's amazing how He will intervene. He'll make that hot guy you like completely unavailable, or make him fall asleep before anything can actually happen, or help you to fall asleep.

It's not like we can just throw it in God's lap and say "Ok unless you completely push me off course, I'm gonna barrel ahead on down the road," we should at least try. But he gets that it's hard. He created us, He knows what's going through our minds. He also allows us to do what we really try to do, so remember that at some level you actually have to want to stop doing  __________. Because we've got free will. If we tell God "nope, I'm gonna go screw the entire football team," He might just let us.

So here's to reading the Bible more, and getting a better understanding of God's love, so we don't have to try to seek it elsewhere.

January 12, 2011

Words and Thoughts

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. - 1 Peter 4:11

Reading this verse can be a heady thing, right? We're to speak with the very words of God! That's awesome! Everyone will have to listen to me because I'm speaking the words of God.

But I don't quite think that's how it works. Of course if God himself speaks to us we should listen and take note. But there are very few instances when God anoints us with His spirit to such an extent as to render us akin to the prophets of old.

No, I don't think this is what Peter means. What this verse says to me is that we should consider what God would have us say. Would He have us speaking words of doubt, shame, derision or lust? Or would He have us speaking words of faith, hope, love, joy and forgiveness?

Our words come from our thoughts, and we are called to speak the words of God. Thus we must have a thought-life that strives to be pure. I will admit, that part is very hard for me. Most people, by the time they reach adulthood, have mastered the ability to think one thing and say another.And while sometimes it can save our skins to not say what we're thinking, I think the point is that we really must get to a place where we're not even thinking things we wouldn't say in front of our boss, or mother.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus' thought life was like. Do you think he complained in his mind that the disciples never quite got it? Or about all the thousands of people who came to him day after day? I don't know either, but I do think that even when he was frustrated, he gave it to God, so that it would not come out of his mouth.

So let us attempt to have a pure thought-life, or at least to give to God all those thoughts that are not in accordance with His love. Yes, this will be a livelong endeavor, one which can only happen through the grace of God. Lord, grant us that grace!

January 11, 2011

It's Not About Food

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." - Luke 12:22-23

I think for the first time ever I read this verse and instead of focusing on the "do not worry" part, I was really struck by the second half--life is more than food.

What percentage of your net pay goes to food? In my case, once I pay rent etc it feels like all I do is eat. And very likely that's somewhat true. But how sad is that? Do I need all of the food I buy? Do I need to get lunch from the food court? Could I possibly make some better choices on where I purchase my food? (The answers are no, no, and yes)

There is so much life out there to live. I think one of the reasons people worry so much--ok, one of the reasons I worry so much--is because I don't go out there and DO things. I wait for the world to come to me; apparently I'm eating while I do so.

Of course we have to eat, I mean God made us this way. But not everything out there needs to be eaten, just because you can buy it in a grocery store.

But there are things in life that can, and I believe should, be taken in: art, music, poetry, conversation, debate, challenges, exhilaration...

Some of these things cost money, but some of them are as easy as inviting a friend over to play cards and seeing where the conversation goes.

The body is indeed about more than food. It is the vehicle that allows us to interact with this world that God gave us, and with the other people on it. This body needs to be used, taken care of, and rested, not just fed. And the benefit to using the body to experience the world is that you will end up feeding your soul.

January 10, 2011


Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be. - Job 8:7

I am going to start by saying that I need to re-read Job. This verse comes from a speech Bildad, a friend of Job's gave him, as he was mourning the loss of his family and possessions. What I don't know for sure is whether this advice is part of the good advice he received, or if it ended up as the "well fine, why don't you just curse God and die" variety. But within the context of chapter 8, it seems fairly reasonable. Stay true to God, Bildad says, and God will restore you and then some.

I really love this verse. Your beginnings will seem humble. When I first read it I focused on the prosperous future, thinking yes! this is what I want! But you have to see how prosperous a future it will be.... your beginnings will seem humble. Not "your beginnings were humble so I will lift you above them," but rather "You were in a fine place at the beginning, but where I'm taking you is gonna leave that in the dust. It will be as though you were a pauper, and now you are the prince."

Um, yay. Please let it be so, Lord!!

I had a dream last night in which I applied for a job--I don't even know what job or what company--but I somehow had decided to just say what I felt and call it as I saw it, which really impressed the CEO (with whom I was inexplicably doing the interview). So then and there he created a job for me, a job where I would be able to do and say whatever I wanted, to keep him real, keep him grounded, make his meetings a little more fun, and in general shake up the company. The title he wanted to give me was "Chief Executive Shocker" (a little odd, but this was a dream). The salary was $135,000.

Can I just say I was a little disappointed when I woke up?

Even in the dream I had the thought of what I could do with that money in six months. It was a beautiful thought, giving me a feeling of security. Hooray, I wouldn't be living paycheck to paycheck, I could save money, do the things I want to do with my life... it was a beautiful feeling.

And I almost lost it completely when the alarm went off.

But then I found this verse, and I feel that God is speaking directly to me through this verse. I will make your beginnings seem humble, because of how much I will prosper you. Oh, let it be, Lord!!! And I know that "prosperous" doesn't mean crazy wealthy, because the wealth of God cannot be measured by the scales of man. But to be prosperous carries with it an inherent sense of peace, which means that I would feel wealthy even if my "riches" were not in currency.

And that follows along with an experience I had yesterday, at church. One of our associate pastors gave the message, and she talked about how at a conference, she had a complete change of heart about someone in her life... one day she wanted to sever the relationship, and the next day she couldn't wait to get back home to see this person. God had quite literally changed her heart.

This is something that I am praying for--that God would change my heart in some things. To help me break away from my past, to let go of all the "things" I have hoarded over the years, to be ready, willing, and able to step forward into a future towards which I believe He is calling me and which will be a complete change in lifestyle.

But if I read this verse correctly, it says that God will take care of me, and not even just "take care of me" but prosper me, revel in my successes, lift me up not for my glory but for His, to show that when we truly follow His plans for us, we will prosper even here on earth.

To repeat myself--Let it be, Lord, let it be!