Invidia


“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” – BCP

Invidia is the Latin word for envy. It is immediately obvious that this is connected to an uncontrollable desire of the flesh. This may look like greed and gluttony, but it is more specifically oriented around unthankfulness.

The basis of this is not trusting in God’s provision and plan. It is an easy sin, because we naturally like to think that we can supply all of our needs. The problems here are that we do not always recognize needs properly and we are often powerless to gain them.

The way of Christ demands trust. No one can carry their cross without having hope that God will provide life in the midst of a deadly situation. Such a faith is profound and highly exercised in loyal trust to a faithful God. And what’s more, if God was willing to provide for His Son, who became human, in His moment of crucifixion, then He will surely provide for those who also voluntarily walk the path of the Lord.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

and gave him the name above all other names… – Philippians 2:9

What is your envy? Is there something that you are scared that you cannot live without? Or do you think people will think less of you if you do not have it? Are any of these things what you really need? Are you willing to see your need for taking up the cross and following Jesus? Are you willing to trust God to provide for that sort of journey?

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Out of Reach


Have you had a dream where you were trying to reach something but you could never reach it. It would always be just at your fingertips and out of reach. That feeling is very frustrating and is tiring. It leaves you tired in the morning and cranky until you get your first cup of coffee down. That feeling, if you recall the dream, sticks with you. That thing you can never reach. It can even hit you in the most spiritual contexts. Most of religion has a way trying to reach something and attain something. But what humanity has not been able to see is quite impossible to reach. How do you connect with a great reality that you cannot see and cannot explain fully?

People always try to reach God, or something out there that is real that would explain life and give meaning. That is why all throughout history we have seen religions try their hardest to reach out to the unknown and benefit from. If you look at the Old Testament, every other religion seems to be reaching out to with all the rules rituals and rules to get to God and be blessed by His presence. The only problem is that it has been just out of our reach. The moment we feel as if we are being blessed, moments turn for the worst. If we follow these efforts, we find ourselves in those nightmares where we cannot seem reach what we want to reach.

Ever since the fall, we have been stuck in a sick cycle of reaching out to God, but not being able to fully reach Him. But the great thing about God has always been reaching out to us. Even right after the fall, He was calling humanity to let Him change their lives for the better. One story that shows us the difference between being religious and letting God chase us. The story is of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of the mountain facing off. They were there to see who could summon their God to answer. The prophets of Baal commit to rituals of yelling louder and louder and then end up cutting themselves in order to get their god to answer them and give them what they need. They are never successful. Elijah, however, knows that God is present enough to just hear him as he prays for an answer. He gets a very powerful answer.

The great thing about the God who answered is that he was reaching out. He always reaches out. If He was not reaching out to us, we would have to yell and come up ways to grab His attention and hopefully getting Him to do things for us. But our God has come to us and can here us. He wants to be close to us in our history. And we don’t have to reach far. We do not even have to reach. He has already put His hand into our lives and is constantly calling us to a better purpose. That is what should amaze us, that a God that humanity rebelled against has decided to chase us and change our lives for good.

People trying to reach God creates two things, people frustrated at not feeling the spirit or people confident that they have completely experienced God with no need for more. Those are things God is out to stop. He wants us to be confident that His Spirit is here with us and that He is taking us on a journey. This is not an arbitrary journey that He is making us travel for His own amusement or to make us jump through the hoops to please Him. He really wants us to have a purpose towards greatness to create faith, hope, and love. He wants us to be the people He created us to be. What will we be? Are we going to keep reaching out to the things we will never reach? Or will we let God reach out to us and transform us and the world around us to be beautiful?

Heroic: 2 Kings 19:1-37


Enacting change that shakes a certain ethos of a community can be difficult. Change is never easy. When we talk about change, the very subject leads most people to think that they will lose something valuable or that they will be forgotten as the change progresses. Others tend to love the dysfunction of the status quo and will do anything to keep it because they are reaping a temporary benefit from it. And there are also times that forces, spiritual and physical, will surround us and attack us. Change for the good is always being opposed by someone somewhere. But if we are able to stand within the confidence that God is doing something important in the world and for us, we will someday see God make His dream for humans come true.

This is the moment where we return to Hezekiah’s story. Israel is surrounded. Hezekiah is at the brink of losing His mind because of Jerusalem being seized by the most powerful military of His day. This was a military in which Israel stood no chance against. In the middle of this, God uses Isaiah to let the king know that there is something bigger happening here. When it is all said and done, the good will win. Violence will lose to peace. Love will triumph of oppression. Those who know they are powerful will find out that they are actually weak. What makes this story even more amazing is that God himself says that he is going to take care of things and make Assyria run for the hills.

This goes back and forth and we can be certain that the Hezekiah went from despair to faith over and over again. Note that the word is faith and not confidence or certainty. Hezekiah was far from certainty the whole time. There was no rational being that could even remotely fantasize that Israel was going to make it out of this. The story shows us how joining God’s movement will take moments where our fate is balanced between tragedy and success with most of the evidence saying we will have a tragic ending.

What makes this story simply astounding is that the act of God takes time to happen, but when it does happen, it is overnight results. The invincible army of the nation whose god had conquered all other gods and was ready to take the title of God over all gods home was reduced to barely the population of a small village by the God of the small and not so impressive Israel. The god of Assyria had lost to the God of Israel. It’s no small wonder that after all the taunting about how great his god was, the King of Assyria left the camp immediately and went straight back to his palace. Not long after that, he was killed by his owns sons, showing that his god was not protecting him.

As Christians we are not supposed to simply put people in separate categories of us and them, but the reality is that people who are not following seeking good, which comes from God, are in another category based on what they are pursuing. And have you ever noticed that people tend to take on the virtues of the group they are part of? If you hang out with athletes, you will likely try a sport. If you hang out with entrepreneurs, you will likely try to create a new line of business. If you hang out with artists, you likely try to make an work of art (and maybe complain about everyone else selling out). You take on the character of your investments. It’s not necessarily bad. For groups to move forward they have to accept at least a few main goals to chase together. Even some of the greatest movements were formed from groups accepting a common goal. These groups, however, can be either good or bad for humanity. They can choose to end violence, stop hunger, and create things that make people want to do good themselves, but they can also kill millions of people in concentration camps, steal money from weaker people, or do things that cause everyone else want to give up helping each other. Either way, we will reflect the group that we join, or we can change our settings.

What made Assyria bad was that their entire culture wanted power and control and they would stop at nothing to get it. It led them to do terrible things when they conquered other countries, but it also led their King’s own sons to kill him while he was worshipping their god. This god supposedly supported violence and when no one challenged the assumption towards violence, even the royal family was not safe.

Israel was different. Their God was one who wanted to take all of humanity out of violence, oppression, and fear and propel them towards love, peace, and joy. This meant that this people who were brought out of a culture based on violent assumptions were always interacting with figures like Hezekiah who would be led by God to change things for the better. And Hezekiah had to put much work into being a catalyst for change while trying to keep trusting God. Once again, he was not certain, but he had faith. And this God, who brought up this people to change the world, saved them in the end. And note that the ones he lead are not going out and taking over everybody and wiping out whole cities. They are actually praying to God to help them.

There are a few things to pull from this post. First, change takes work, but if it is change that God enacts, then it is worth pursuing because it makes the world better. Also, the values of your group or tribe are very powerful and can shape you if you do not choose to shape the values. Choose carefully which group you try to identify with and be someone who seeks to contribute to the group by allowing God work through your voice. Be open and warm to everyone, including those who want to make the world a terrible place. But always remember that we identify with Jesus who gave his life so that others could have their life made fuller in Him. And finally, remember Hezekiah’s story. It will try your faith to shift a community back to what God created it to be, but that is faith. It’s not when you have the sun shining on your face and the cool breeze hitting you that you learn what faith is. It is when you are in caves of doubt and feel like curling into a fetal position that you learn what faith in an unseen God is. It’s remembering that there is a promise of something better and moving towards it. Heroes are alway remembered for the changes they make in their story and the faith they have in the change they are enacting.

So how is it that you can enact a change in your community? Maybe there is some form of oppression or some assumption that is biblical bad for humanity. Maybe there is a lack of passion for Kingdom and Mission. Either way, once we see what God wants, we have a choice to ignore it or jump into it. We can take a safe status quo if we want, but jumping into God’s plans, though risky, can produce a beautiful movement if we only respond to the good wishes God has for us.

Heroic: 2 Kings 15:1-31


When we talk about life as people of faith, one question that will come up is how can we trust those who lead us. It’s a natural question for us since we have heard so many stories of pastors taking of This story today shows a list of leaders of Israel were not following God and ended up misleading the people of God. The crazy part of this story is that these were expected to lead to the people to a good place and were supposed to be chosen by God to lead. However, they took them down a path that many leaders do. They made the people fit their own plans and dreams instead of the path that God had made for them. It shows that leaders lead from what is inside them. It’s amazing that we tend to do things from our true values. When we live as heroes, we will be endowed on some level with a form of leadership, but as we do, we must keep the connection with who made us heroic in the first place.

If you look at the history of humanity, we are very inclined to express what we believe. We create our own stories from what is deep in our desires and we try to fit others around that mold. If you do not have a good path laid out for you and you are a leader, you could very easily take people down a path that does not create a good future. If you look at the era mentioned in the story, it is an era of prophets, and one thing they are very quick to point out is when kings and countries are going down a destructive path. We see that it has not changed that people lose sight of what is good when they just focus on being a leader. Most people have a leader inside them, but a good leader puts people before his own interest.

It takes a certain kind of connection to bring out the good in a body of faith. It takes being connected to the source of love, peace, and perspective outside of the self. Many leaders that have arisen have put so much hope in the fame and glory that came with leadership that they lost sight of what kind of hero God has made us to be. It takes hearing from the Spirit of God which will always lead us to love, joy, self-sacrifice, and anything that creates a better world.

And all of this brings a really good question into the conversation…

What are we connected to?

Are we connected to fame, power, money, influence? What drives us in the end will define the decisions that we make. That is not just true for individuals. It’s true for communities. Bodies of local believers can take on their own persona which includes a system of values. Just walk into any church and you will see that to be true (Ever worn a t-shirt of a rock band into a traditional rural church?) No one is perfect and everyone gives into these value systems on some level, but its good to be aware of that reality. How we travel on the road affects every other person. The best way to counter the negative effects of selfish leadership or even the community spirit that can exclude other, we should be aware of the path that God has set for every individual in order to define community. The Spirit of God is the compass for our journey. Before Christ was glorified, he promised us a presence with us. This all means we all have access to the transformation away from selfishness and greed which can ruin the world. We have been enabled to choose love, faith, and joy. We can live better lives in light of the acts of God. The only question is will we choose to realize it.

Heroic: 2 Kings 13:14-25


Have you ever been in the middle of a terrible situation? Have you ever been part of a huge movement that had too many problems? In this story Israel is in the middle of panic as a country attacks them and raiders from other countries keep coming into Israel. It’s not one of Israel’s brightest historical moments. King Jehoash experienced a series of emotions that some of us are all to familiar with: uncertainty, disaster, then panic. One of the prevalent themes of the Scripture is that God is present and acting for us in these moments. We may not see it, but God is always on the verge of doing something profound within our moments of doubt.

King Jehoash was scared for Israel. So he goes to see Elisha, who is at his final moments of life. After a series of seemingly pointless tests, Elisha goes on to tell Jehoash what is going to happen in a nut shell. However, he points out that a little more action on the King’s part would have allowed for him to have a stronger victory. As that story goes on, Elisha’s dies and his proclamation is upheld. It has to be one of the strangest moments for Jehoash. In the midst of tension and doubt about if God will be acting on his behalf. Even the proclamation made by Elisha made it seem that there would be some victory and then trouble, perhaps even death. At the end of the passage God still protected Israel despite the proclamation. His love for Israel wins out. He wanted to bless them and not destroy them. (There is even a resurrection story wedged in here, but we’ll avoid details about that story here.) I’m sure Jehoash still had some questions about God, as most people seem to in this story, but God was still there while he questioned and panicked.

It’s peculiar for most Christians to think about this being Elisha’s last recorded act as a prophet. This was a moment when people were doubting God and disobeying Him. Being part of God’s mission means acting in faith, but faith has always been messy. Faith deals with the unknowable and the unseen, so its easy to doubt and not God seriously. In the midst of faith, we might see some moments of struggle or even oppression that lead either to thinking God is apathetic towards us or does not exist at all. It’s at this kind of moment that God is still be faithful. He has promised to rescue His people regardless of the people who mislead it or make it something wretched. He is always in the act of rescue despite the doubts that His people have. He even is in the business of saving those outside the realm of His Kingdom through Christ. This God does not care if you are completely aware of Him or fully certain about His plan, He will act to save you and benefit you anyways.

In the end, the King gets back the land for his people due to God being with them. Heroic faith can sometimes be weathering the storm in hopes of the better future. That is the nature of hope. The one thing that can bring you through doubt is hope. It does not mean that you will not doubt. That is going to happen regardless of whether you hope or not. What does matter is the hope that God will do something for us. He will not leave us hanging. He will rescue in the end.

Vision of Jeremiah: Patience


jeremiah_(michelangelo-sistine_chapel)If you want an example of a prophet who had a rough time, go to Jeremiah. The man was never listened to, was jailed, and was even dragged into a form of exile when he ended up being right. He was recognized long after his death and never during his life. He was, without a doubt, a prophet that suffered.

Why?

Why would someone suffer this much for a people?

Jeremiah, throughout the book about his life work, is a man of intense vision. Its neither a vision of destruction and judgement nor one of his own triumph and vindication. It’s not even his own vision. The entire book up to being taken to Egypt is filled with tension with a stubborn group of people who want to do things their way and against God. Even when he is in Egypt, the scene keeps playing out. Confrontation is a major theme running through this man’s life because God placed a vision in him.

In chapter 20, Jeremiah begins to describe his life vision like a fire in his bones. He is describing that feeling of wanting to stop what he is doing, but then realizing that he just can’t. It points to something profound and unstoppable in Jeremiah’s identity. God keeps sending, and Jeremiah keeps going. There are more verses I could quote for you here, but they would be too many. Besides, you get a better view when read the entire book in one sitting. If you do not like reading, have it read to you, there’s an app for that.

The best thing about Jeremiah is that I can see myself in Jeremiah. He acts and then struggles in confrontation with people who normally would have loved and cared about him. Being told no so many times can make a man go mad and lead him to be depressed, especially when he is trying to speak meaning into other people’s lives. Whether you are trying to speak a challenging word to believers or just trying to do something important, the word no is devastating, especially when you invest a good portion of your life to the effort.

Have you even been in confrontation because you were trying to do the right thing? I’m not talking about just disagreeing with someone and stubbornly saying you are the one who is right. That sounds more like the wayward Israelite. The struggle here is about something that has been put inside you and is from somewhere outside of you. It’s not an emotion, it is an identity found in a vision and a mission. If you have that, you will always find that patience is something that is needed. You cannot just run this race and expect it to be easy. It’s not a playground experience. It’s the Spartan Race. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Running Man…okay, terrible movie to use as an example, but you get my point. If you walk that path, you will have to struggle.

Jeremiah is a legend to Bible readers. No one forgets a good story of struggle. You can hardly make some of the stuff in Jeremiah up. It is a book of a great teaching for those trying to live meaningfully for God and His mission. Live out the struggle with patience and you will get to the place God wants you to be. It might not be today. It might take years. But a day of hope is coming.

When you talk with truth and grace and meaning to people, know that some will take it. But always remember that there are those who won’t take it; who can’t take it.

Some of these people are outside of the Church and some are in the Church.

You just have to keep speaking love and meaning to these people. Speak patiently and love patiently. It will hurt, but I think that loving and hurting will make our stories better than living distanced and lonely. Because that is what our heroes of the Faith like Jeremiah did.

Vision of Paul: Perseverance


run-with-perseverance2When people think of life as a story of learning faith and acceptance of God’s vision, they will notice some themes that run through all their lives. A big one is struggle. All of us at some level will experience at least one major struggle in our lives, if not multiple. It’s one of the facts that can cause fear, because we do not like pain, heartbreak, or loss. If you’re in a community, this a great conversation starter. If you’re in honest community, you better grab the reins and strap yourself down for a bumpy ride, because we all have major stories of struggle. Some will make you angry, others sad, and still others will leave you speechless.

Although struggle is a part of our lives, it does not have to be THE major them of our lives. The reason for this is that there are two types of people, ones who let circumstances define them and others who find a way to define their circumstances. We all know the first person. They complain and want pity. They think there is no way out of a bad situation. But what the first person needs to hear is the story that the second person has discovered, a life of perseverance. These people take seriously the fact that the ones who define things hold the power. They believe that is true when experiencing hard moments in life. If you are struggling, know that there is a way through it and a way to transcend it. You can either define or be defined, influence or be influenced.

The Apostle Paul discovered how to influence in 2 Corinthians 11:23-31. He talks about all the ways he has struggle. My first reading of this passage made me wonder why Paul did not just quit and say that the movement of Christianity was useless. At the end he says something that is foundational to living faith with perseverance. “If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying.” Note that he embraces His weakness and finds what is truly stronger, that is the God who has rescued him. Vision is easy to dismiss in the middle of struggle when we lose our focus on who is the source of our vision. Maybe it’s our cultural training or natural human behavior, but we tend to take the easiest path possible.

Struggling to find God’s vision is worth the struggle. It may not seem like it, but if you look to what he has done in your past, you can see that He is carrying you, me, and us our entire lives. If you don’t see it in your past, I urge you to ask someone who has experienced it and read the Bible for people who experienced it too. Also, look to the future of hope that God has promised us in Christ. Keeping focus will keep us in perseverance and will make the current troubling times more bearable and more productive in giving us character in the likeness of Jesus. Paul found it. Many others in the history of this Faith have found it. Are you ready to find it?

Fasting and Dependence


We depend on food and air for physical survival. To get food, we usually do everything from asking a servant to get it for us, to getting it at the grocery store, to begging for food on the streets. We strive to attain, but where does it truly come from? It can seem that with food, we are gaining our needs by our own strength. Reality, however,says otherwise.

Food is a minimal provider of energy. It is true that hunger is powerful and starvation seems to be problematic in our world. Scientifically speaking, it is a minute source. Yet we tend act like this source of energy that we control provides the most energy.

Air provides the most energy for the human body. Our bodies use the oxygen more than any other fuel we take in any other way. This is why we breathe all day and night as opposed to eating just a few times a day.We may think we have done everything to provide for our survival, but we are actually helpless to control and provide this necessity. Which raises the question, are who is the source of all we need and is there a greater work going on?

In the end, we provide nothing and God provides everything. One way to realize this is to practice Fasting. Although you can fast from many things, the traditional object is food. The reason is that abstaining from this teaches us that faith and trust is needed when following God. Going without trains us to say that I am powerless to truly provide. Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we are not to store up our life treasure with this world, in selfishness and fear, but to allow God to provide the needs and take us to the places that we need to go. This is challenging, which is exactly why fasting is challenging. Trust is never easy for what we do not see, but when we trust God in our lives, we will in the end know His great peace and wholeness.

Are confident in your ability to provide? Can you actually make things appear or grow for your survival? Are you willing to practice spiritual disciplines such as fasting in order to learn trust? Are you willing to let go of pride in order to trust God?