My Heart, It Tends to Stray

Author’s Note: For these blog posts, I often include a picture to break up the massive walls of text that usually come from my rambling writing style. I search a keyword or phrase on Google Images and try to pick one that fits what I’m trying to write about.

Well, this time, the image gave me something to write about. Love it when that happens.

Stray baby dog_119377674 copy

Aside from being absolutely adorable, this dog gave me an intro.


Isn’t one of the saddest things seeing an animal walking along the side of the highway without an owner, looking lost and all alone? Sometimes my thoughts race to what might have happened to get that dog or cat there. It hurts. Something about our humanity gives us an empathy for animals that could be pets. I wonder how many people have picked up strays and then became their lifelong companions.

Something like 15 years ago, a cat wandered up to our kitchen window and stared at us. I distinctly remember it was a Sunday after church. He was black and gray with some streaks of white in there. He was there again and again. We fed him and he became a part of our family for a long time. He died last year, which was sad for me. Stormy, which is what we called him, was my favorite pet we’ve ever had as a family. He was a lot like me. Chill, reserved, but very loving once he got to know you. There would be times I would go sit outside on our porch and Stormy would wander right up and let me pet him as the moon and stars hung above us.

He was a stray that we took in, one that we loved and fed and cared for until one day he was gone. I was at college when I heard. But until now, I’ve never really thought about how much his story mirrors my own.

I’m so thankful that new mercies rise with the morning sun. I’m so thankful that You’ve never given up on me. Please draw near, You know my heart it tends to stray, it tends to stray.

Christians are children of God. They are loved and cared for by Him, fed by Him, given life by Him, strengthened by Him. But we stray. I can think of many instances in my life when I’ve strayed from God, strayed from His love, strayed from His Word, strayed from speaking with Him, strayed from obedience.

But as The Assemblie’s song “Stray” says, new mercies rise with the morning sun. And as many times as we give up on God, He loves us throughout it.

Mystery of all mysteries, what You’ve done in my heart. Once stained by sin and shame, You’ve restored innocence. Why I have this second chance I will never know, I’ll never know.

Have you ever understood that idea fully? I haven’t either. But I think, honestly, we get to experience it a little bit when we take in a stray animal. We love them and we care for them and we give them everything they need. Sometimes they might be too much for us to handle, and this is where the analogy ends. We might give the animal away or put it down (sad face), but God doesn’t. Ever. (Note: I’m not saying we outlaw putting animals down. Not what this is about.)

How crazy is that to you? Has that ever struck you as incredible? Have you ever been astounded? You can return to God and be loved and cared for just as much as you were when you first came. God doesn’t put us down or give us away. He gives millions of second chances.

Why? I’ll never know.

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I’m Not OK with God’s Wrath Sometimes

I’ve been reading through Jeremiah, sort of, trying to, the last month or so. I’m only on chapter 8 now, so it’s been slow going. I haven’t been terribly consistent or disciplined with my quiet time.

Anyways, I was reading chapter 7 today and was struck by all the violence that God declares on the Israelite people. I have a journaling Bible, which is a really cool Bible that has big lined margins on the side where you can take notes or record thoughts. Jeremiah 7 is a particularly condemning chapter. Verses 16-20 read thus:

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? declares the LORD. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”

Don’t know how you, the reader, feels about this passage, but I struggle with it. In the margins by a different verse, I wrote, “Sometimes I wonder why God was so harsh, so rash. Why was He so unforgiving then but is forgiving now?”

ask-question-2-fb180173e13f21ad6ae73ba29b08cd02I feel like sometimes in the church culture, we have to have an explanation for everything, otherwise people will question God. Otherwise people will not believe in God. God’s wrath is one of those things that often gets people. How can a loving God do this?

To be honest with you, I don’t know if I have an answer for that that I am totally behind. I know God is judge as well as lover, and that He executes perfect justice on the earth. But why did He wait until later to show grace, particularly to me? I am just as equally a sinner as these people were, yet because I was born after Jesus, I have the opportunity to experience the goodness of the grace of God.

Not that the people God speaks of in Jeremiah didn’t have an opportunity to believe in Him. They had plenty of opportunities. Jeremiah 7:25 speaks of God’s “servants the prophets” who were sent to speak to the people.

But don’t you ever feel like God maybe was a little too harsh on the people of Israel?

Now, some people might hear me ask that question and think I’m not a believer, think I don’t think God is good, think I doubt that God is who He says He is, think I don’t believe the Bible is perfect, or whatever. But I’m tired of just going along with what everybody says just because everybody says it. So often in the Christian culture we just hear what a pastor we like or our favorite author says and then we go along with it because they said it.

Is our faith ever really our own?

Maybe I’m wrong for questioning this. I don’t know. But I can’t help but wonder if we might be strengthened and encouraged as a body of Christ if we’re more honest about the real questions we have about what we believe, what the Bible says, how we’re supposed to live our lives.

So if you have questions, ask them. Don’t just believe something because somebody said it. Don’t believe me just because I’m saying what I’m saying right now. Question me! I think Christians are scared of asking questions because we’re “supposed” to have all the answers. Only non-Christians question God, right? We’re supposed to know everything, right?

No. I don’t think so. And we Christians get scared when people find out we don’t know everything. “They won’t believe in Jesus if we don’t give them all the answers!” It’s not up to us. It’s up to God who believes. God draws them, saves them, not us.

It’s too bad, because our God knows all the answers. We may never get all of them this side of heaven, but He’s given us His Son as an answer or part of the answer to a great many of them. Namely the important ones: How do I find purpose? How do I deal with all the crap I’ve done wrong? What happens when you die? How do we know God?

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Feel free to comment, share this with your friends, talk about this. I’d love for this to be a place of dialogue where the 10 people (maybe) that read this talk about things that matter, such as the questions that Christians have about God and the Bible. We may not know the answers, but dialogue can be an incredibly helpful thing.

I Don’t Have to Prove a Thing

There’s a sweetness in the gospel in its unfairness. This song captures it pretty well with one line.

 

The line: “And I am learning to believe that I don’t have to prove a thing, ’cause You’re the one that’s saving me.”

If the only way we could be saved is by our actions, our decisions, our choices, we would never be saved. We would never find a way to God. That’s the point of Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The point of grace is so that God gets all the attention. For so long I knew that, but I didn’t see how that brought me joy. How does somebody else getting the attention bring me joy?

It brings me joy because the burden is off my shoulders. My salvation is no longer based on my perfection or lack thereof. It’s based on the perfection of Jesus and the love of God in light of the depravity of man. I don’t have to prove my perfect law-keeping or that my thoughts are 100% pure, because, thankfully, that’s not the point. The point is Jesus was perfect in our place.

So often we work so hard to be perfect, but that’s not the point of Christianity. You follow Jesus is because you’re not perfect. The Bible isn’t about us being good enough, but about how Jesus was good enough.

We don’t have to prove nothing, because Jesus is the Savior, not us.

How Am I Any Different?

I was reading a post on OnFaith, a faith website that posts interesting articles sometimes. I don’t always agree with all of them, but I must say it is interesting to see how different people interpret Scripture. Again, I don’t always agree with them. How rare it is in our day – and it’s a new thing in my life – to be OK with posting and reading things that you don’t agree with.

Anyways, the post I was reading was titled “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Jesus” by Father James Martin SJ, a Jesuit priest. I thought a lot of what he wrote was really cool, and things I wish people would understand and believer about my Savior: He had close friends, He reached out to those on the margins, He rose from the dead. But one really caught my eye and I instantly got judgmental and self-righteous.

“Jesus didn’t say anything about gays and lesbians.”

My honest first thoughts: oh, this is another one of those “Christians” that thinks homosexuality is OK just because Jesus didn’t talk about it. Martin also writes, “Admittedly, St. Paul speaks about that topic, but many contemporary scholars believe that Paul was probably speaking not about homosexuality per se (the word itself is of relatively recent vintage) but about the evils of male prostitution.” Oh, of course, the language translation thing.

I don’t know if Martin believes homosexuality is OK or a sin. One might imply from his statement that he might think it’s not a sin, but I don’t want to rush to a judgment on that because I simply don’t know.

The evangelical community likes to harp on self-proclaimed Christians who say homosexuality is not a sin and even practice it. We like to write blog posts and hold conferences and post Facebook statuses. We like to point out their sin and say they’re not Christians.

(I say “we” because I have done and continue to do, unfortunately and sadly, the same thing.)

But even though I’m a heterosexual who thinks homosexuality is a sin, does that really make me any different than those people we like to hate? Let’s be honest: does it? Are we really that much better that we can criticize “Christian homosexuals” and not point at ourselves and admit our own flaws first? Do we actually have the moral high ground in that situation?

Someone’s Christianity is not based on whether or not they think homosexuality is a sin.

The biggest problem I have in the homosexuality issue, honestly, is how the Church handles it. If I was dealing with those kind of feelings and tendencies, I wouldn’t want to go to most churches that lean evangelical.

Perhaps those people haven’t realized or fully accepted that their homosexual tendencies is a sin. That’s our biggest complaint, right?

Perhaps we haven’t fully accepted that our lying is a sin. Perhaps we haven’t fully accepted that our heterosexual lust is a sin. Perhaps we haven’t fully accepted that our worrying about how that person feels about us is a sin. Perhaps we haven’t fully accepted that our dislike of a certain political candidate that might turn into hatred or anger is a sin.

How are we, excuse me, how am I really any different? Shouldn’t I love them as I desire to be loved through my sin? Heck yes.

Do I want people to gloss over my sin? No. I don’t think I should gloss over their sin either. But I should love them and not treat them like they’re alien creatures.

If I were to meet myself, and myself would spill out all my darkest secrets to me, the sins in my head and my heart, I’d probably think I was a insert-word-of-choice-for-bad-person-here. And I’d be right. But would I treat me like I sometimes treat, even how I think about, the guy who says he’s gay? Don’t think so. I might make an exception.

Let it not be so.