It’s not the end of the world . . . just yet.

People keep asking me if Jesus is coming back soon. Personally, I’m counting on that to happen, but to be honest, God hasn’t invited me into the morning briefings to discuss His timing of future events. I guess my short answer is, I don’t think so. The world has gone through more difficult things previously to this, and God continues to be patient. God’s character does not reflect emotional volatility.

People have been posting this image online multiple times also, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

One of the disturbing things about this image, is that it conjures up the idea that God is emotionally volatile with current political events. It’s not that I don’t believe in the righteous wrath of God against evil, which, by the way, everything God does is righteous, including His wrath. It’s just that . . . God doesn’t lose his temper like we do. The sketch is a very self-projecting emotional drawing.

Concordances of the Bible, which are alphabetical documents of every word in the Bible, will tell you that the wrath of God is articulated even more times in the Bible than the love of God. I know, right?! Take a walk through the book of Lamentations and you’ll see how the wrath of God is displayed.

So, it’s not that I don’t think God displays wrath, that this image is disturbing to me, it’s that the image displays a lack of self-control in God, or a temper-tantrum-throwing-Jesus on display.

You might be thinking, well now, come on . . . Jesus got out of hand when the religious Pharisees were selling items for sacrificial worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, so Jesus started slinging tables around and he even made a whip to drive them from the Temple. You might think Jesus lost his temper there and overreacted to the situation.

One of the incorrect ways people tend to read the Bible, especially historical events like this, is that we often interpret Scripture through our own lens of emotions and apply “this is how I would feel in that situation” type of reading. On top of that, it doesn’t help that most of us have a short temper, (I’ll speak for myself, right dad?), and we overreact to volatile situation ad nauseam.

Did Jesus get angry at the misrepresentation of the worship at the Temple, you bet he did. Was it a temper tantrum, not in the least. Jesus displayed a calculated response against the evil represented by religious legal experts, who for centuries, were misrepresenting God’s character and extorting worshipers to pay money for grace. (Families coming to Temple needed a small living sacrifice as an offering to God. The religious few were profiting off of the sale of these items, to say the least.) These practices of sales were legally binding people in their sins, rather than offering them the grace that Jesus would eventually die to pardon.

Let me say it another way, the Temple incident was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus would endure on the cross, which would pardon all for their sin (all of our sin). Jesus took the pain and suffering of death upon himself, that would essentially expunge all people of their need to sacrifice something on an altar, asking God to forgive them. In that moment, Jesus may have been inciting the wrath of the religious legal experts upon himself, who would one day unleash their hatred upon him at another Passover weekend.

Back to that image above. I get it. We think God is mad at this whole world for the way we are treating one another, which isn’t good at the moment.

Truth is, God isn’t mad. That image is wrong. Jesus died and pardoned our sin, once and for all. God isn’t mad with you. Your behavior may not be honoring to God, but HE’S NOT YELLING AT YOU (see what I did there?). If anything, God is whispering, like He did with Elijah, and God is asking you to draw close to Him during this difficult time.

Maybe the image is better represented by humans yelling at one another, and God drawing near to us in love.

Maybe this image bothers me because we think God has about had ENOUGH, thank you very much, and He’s yelling at us, “DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE, YOU STUPID CHILDREN.” God doesn’t see us that way.

God wants us to love each other, and yet the Holy Spirit is grieved that we don’t know how to love one another.

Here’s an idea, what if we stopped YELLING AT ONE ANOTHER OUT OF HATE & HURT, and begin reaching out in love to one another, one person at a time?!

How about we, you and me, stop all the anger and yelling, which doesn’t produce the righteousness God desires anyways, and we learn to love one another.

I think the image of Jesus yelling “STOP IT” at the world is a misrepresentation of God’s character.

I don’t think Jesus is disconnected from the world, the size of a tennis ball, and yelling. Rather Jesus is close, he’s nearby. In fact, Jesus is visibly living in you and me through the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in each of us.

So, when is God coming back? I don’t know.

One thing I do know, however, is that God is not losing His temper. Rather, God is extending His love to you and me, through you and me, into this dark world in need of much grace.

You Reap What You Sow

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

– Galatians 6:7 NIV

I gotta be real honest here. I’ve always been afraid of this verse in the Bible. Maybe it comes from my childhood church denomination, where somehow, I learned that God would smite me, or strike me with lightning when I got out of line, or stepped outside the behavior box. Not that I remember God ever smiting me or striking me with lightening; which is not to say, I never stepped out of the box. I did plenty of stepping outside the box, made plenty of mistakes … continue to make plenty of poor choices, but God doesn’t strike people with lightening when they sin. However, Christians are not immune to consequences of their poor actions.

Let me start over with this.

The Bible verse, if you read it out of context, like we do, reads something like an action / reaction kind of verse. Or a mistakes / consequences type of verse. I mean, come on now, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what they sow.” That sounds like a bully verse from Paul. Something like, “If God doesn’t like your behavior, if you keep screwing up like this, God isn’t playin’ around, God’s going to take your lunch money, give you a wedgie, and put you in a corner” kind of verse. Am I right?!

Now, consequences are real. People who claim a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, are not immune from the consequences of their sins, even though believers are forgiven from the penalty of death for their sins (Rom.6:23). One of the main issues in this verse of Galatians 6:7 is that God is not going to be mocked. We cannot continue to indulge in sinful living, essentially mocking God, and taking advantage of grace through His son’s sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. Jesus died so you could be free from those things that are killing you.

This post isn’t about sin management … I promise.

I attended an amazing University back in the late 80’s. One reason it was such a great school is they offered bowling as a physical education elective. That’s right, bowling. So of course, like you do, I took bowling for a semester. Now in Southern California, in late Spring, the weather can get pretty warm. Besides bowling, I also took a class on marriage & family relationships. In the marriage class, my professor gave out small living potted plants for each student to take care of and nurture for the semester while we learned about “nurturing” relationships. These were the days, over 30 years ago, before kids are given robot babies in high school with GPS readings, and tracking systems … no, a potted plant.

I think you see where this is going.

I had bowling class, right after the marriage class. So, I took the plant with me to bowling, since I didn’t have time to get to my dorm and drop off the plant. And, getting to the bowling alley, I didn’t want to bring a plant into a smoking environment for 90 minutes. Remember the 80’s when people could smoke inside buildings? I know, right?! So, I left the plant inside my 1974 Brown Toyota Corolla, 2-door hatch back, but of course I rolled the window down one hand crank, so the air could circulate, duh, I’m not that stupid. Needless to say, after coming out of bowling class with a crushing score of like 100 something, I walked up to my car, jumped inside to get back to school in time for cafeteria for beef stroganoff dinner, before heading off to work. I forgot all about the plant in my car.

A couple days later, after dropping some fries between the seats on a fast food run, I looked behind the passenger seat on the floor board and found the not-so-living potted plant … absolutely dead. I failed that portion of the marriage class. Good thing it was only a plant, and not my real marriage.

I learned something that day; “you reap what you sow” wasn’t just a cliché, and failing that portion of the class was real life.

Poor decisions, lead to negative consequences. God will not be mocked.

Could God have saved that plant, in my car, on the floorboard, in 100-degree weather? Sure, He’s known for more miraculous things that that, but He didn’t. And I can’t mock God for letting it die. It was totally my fault.

But again, I don’t think the Apostle Paul is writing in Galatians 6 about “sin management”. I don’t think sin management is really the best life of the Christian.

I mean, should we avoid sin and live a holy life? Yes. Is it better for people of faith to not walk in darkness or sin, like those without faith in God? Yes. Does walking a more holy life “save you”, or make you more “saved”. No. Jesus did enough to rescue you from the penalty of death and separation from God, once and for all on the cross, when he died and rose to life by the power of God. He defeated sin’s power over people.

I grew up thinking this verse was about sin management. “Don’t screw up, or God will crush you.”

But, what if we read this verse in context, and look at the entire chapters of Galatians 5 & 6? What if we were to see that Paul here is talking about living out the fruit of the Spirit God gave you when you embraced a relationship with Jesus? What if life isn’t all about the “rules”, and more about living more freely in God’s Kingdom in the Son God loves. And, more than just living in God’s Kingdom, living out Kingdom living in your world.

In Apostle Paul’s day, there were people who were telling the young “Jesus Way” people, that you had to keep the Jewish law of circumcision in order for God to accept you. Paul was arguing that this kind of behavior based salvation was off the table now that Messiah has come. Paul was telling this young church in Galatia that faith people no longer live by laws, trying to win God’s favor. We are free to live a life of Spiritual Freedom in Christ, through Christ.

Those who walk by faith have been given miraculous gifts from God that manifest into fruit, like fruit on of a living tree. That fruitfulness is evidenced in things like love for others, joy beyond circumstances, peace of mind in the middle of a pandemic, patience for impatient people, kindness in the grocery store, goodness of heart, faithful living, gentle relationships, and the power of self-control when life is out of our control.

Then it gets better.

Paul goes on to say, in Galatians 6, that we ought to help one another grow in our fruitful expression of God’s grace. We ought to help one another bear more fruit and express the hope and grace of God in a world structure that is based on behavior and consequence. Why? Because the new creation has come, new living is the option, new freedoms are in place, new sowing of God’s Kingdom work is evident.

Here’s where it gets good.

What if this verse in Galatians 6:7 isn’t about God smacking you around when you sin; “You reap what you sow”, rather, what if this verse if about God reaping an unimaginable harvest of fruitful through you living out His Kingdom, when you share your fruitful gifts with the world?

What if “you reap what you sow” is a GOOD THING?!

What if, as faith people, we concentrate more on the task of sowing good in the world, and sowing love in the neighborhood, and sowing faith in the world, and sowing peace in the marketplace? What if reaping what we sow is God reaping a harvest of Christ-like people sharing the freedom of Spirit living in the world that attracts others toward God, rather than rule-makers and sin-managers pushing people away from God?

I don’t know about you, but I am no longer afraid of this verse in Galatians 6:7… “you reap what you sow”. If we look at it from a negative “I’m always screwing up, and I feel like I’m in trouble with God” kind of perspective, then we live afraid. Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, “God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.” God doesn’t want you living in a spirit of fear negatively like, “you reap what you sow”, even though we are always a screw up and stepping outside the box. God doesn’t keep track of your sin, by the way.

Flip it over on its head.

What if God is saying, “start sowing good in the world, and I’ll reap a harvest through you”. Start using your faith to plant seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, good, faith, being gentle, and expressing self-control … and see what happens in the world around you.

God will not be mocked. You’ll never out-smart God. Don’t even try.

But God is also faithful, and He will use every single act of good that you sow in this dark time, to reap a harvest of good to come.

So …

Plants die in a hot car in the summer, and even though I failed that portion of the class, God is still faithful. Grades aren’t everything. I grew from that experience. Let us stop living under the behavior pandemic of “sin management” and live a new creation life of freedom and hope, like Apostle Paul wrote about in Galatians, so that the sowing of the fruit in our lives might be the greatest expression of God’s Kingdom in your world, today. God will not be mocked, He’s paying attention to what you’re sowing… let’s sow some good in the world and see what God can do with it.

The Character of God

“So, what is God doing during this pandemic?”

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It’s April, 2020 and it feels like the world has fallen apart. Over a million people have contracted the Covid-19 virus, and thousands have died. As a funeral director in Northern Colorado, picking up deceased who have succumb to the virus, families are asking me “What do you think God is doing through all of this?”

I read on a news post this morning that some celebrities think this is a genocide of sorts, chemically designed to ravage one generation from this planet. Others think this is a ploy of some countries to take out the economy of nations, as a power move for world domination. There are too many conspiracy theories out there to make sense of it all. End of the world preppers are saying “God is finally getting his revenge against a sinful world”. Some think this is punishment for the sins of humanity over an extended period of time, as if God were running out of space for tally marks on his recording paper in heaven.

What do you think?

Why is God allowing for a virus like this to decimate humanity and ravage the world with grief to this magnitude?

My take (just an opinion here), but my take is that western civilization has forgotten how to process suffering. Western culture has developed a theodicy that implies a magical genie lamp “God wouldn’t let his creatures suffer harm”.

How many times have you heard the question, “would a loving God allow his children to suffer”? Logically, wouldn’t a loving parent keep their child from harm as long as possible? If God loves us, why does He let bad things happen to good people? I’ve heard it asked a hundred different ways.

Reading through the Holy Scriptures, I have come to understand that God’s love is expressed in allowing His children to grow and develop a faith that trusts in a sovereign God. Does God take pleasure in the suffering of His children, no. Not at all. But can a loving God allow His creation to go through pain, so that their character might grow? Yes.

What is God doing?

The Lord is allowing us to keep our perspective, solely on God’s sovereignty. That’s what God is doing. God is reminding us that He is Lord and we are not. He is sovereign, He is worthy of our worship, God is forgiving, and loving, gracious to all, forgiving all our sins and healing our diseases.

Psalm 103 Of David.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses,his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west,so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children,so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed,he remembers that we are dust. 15 The life of mortals is like grass,they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,and his righteousness with their children’s children—18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. 19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,you his servants who do his will. 22 Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.

 

Not What I Had Planned

It seems like December is the month to say, “Not what I had planned”. end-of-year

I’m a planner by nature. I wake up at the same time daily, and try to go to sleep at roughly the same time daily. I have routines. I have dress codes for work. I schedule meetings at times in the day with families. I schedule my business meetings in a timely fashion. I generally have my top 10 places to eat meals… you know, life is pretty predictable when it comes to planning and schedules.

Then, out of the blue, the church I was working for, ran out of funding for my salary as Senior Pastor. Didn’t see that coming this year. This year, after 7 years of serving this church, I was granted a sabbatical 3 months off of office work. We took advantage and made some plans for trips to NYC, and Vancouver Island, Canada. We went to Ontario Canada and even to Los Angeles for some sunshine. We returned home to Colorado in August and found that church has spent the savings and giving was down, and wouldn’t recover. We gave it 3 months and the numbers kept declining, much to our chagrin. So we decided to resign the position before getting blindsided by bad news of no more money for staff positions. Didn’t see that coming. Again, not what I had planned.

Now I’m working part time for a local funeral home in town. We get calls, remove deceased, place them in our care, meet with families for services, care for the grieving as best we can, and complete services with burials or cremations. Not what I had planned; and not what they had planned, either. It’s quite the business for sure. I never knew the amount of work it takes to prepare someone for burial, or cremation services. I’ve been a pastor for nearly 30 years in various forms, and have walked with those grieving in many ways for those years, but I never imagined this side of the business it takes to care for the loved ones remaining. Again, not what I had planned.

Then I think about the time of year that it is. December is a month where people tend to say, “not what I had planned”. The passing of a loved one tends to occur more often in the winter than in the summer months, statistically. Many of our grieving families say aloud in our arrangement meetings, “This is not what we had planned”. I couldn’t agree more.

December is also the time of year when we celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the world. King of kings and Lord of lords was born to a young virgin girl, engaged to be married to a young man Joseph. Imagine the conversation Mary had with the Angel Gabriel about the pregnancy, “not what I had planned, but may it be according to your word”. And imagine the dream Joseph experienced with the angel about Mary’s pregnancy. I wonder if his response was “not what I had planned, but I will obey”. And Zachariah heard from the Angel Gabriel about his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the baptizer, and imagine his conversation going something like, “not what I had planned”.

I can’t imagine any of the events that happened in the Bible were something God would say, “not what I had planned”. God is never surprised. Someone posted an image of the manger scene on social media with a meme quote “unplanned pregnancy”. But it sat wrong with me. God didn’t see that pregnancy, the one with his Son, the chosen Messiah for the salvation of the world … that one …, as anything unplanned. God, in His infinite wisdom and total sovereign grace, saw that pregnancy as the most pre-planned event in history. Some 300 Scriptures are linked to predicting that one pregnancy alone. God doesn’t do anything unplanned. And so it is with our lives.

So, when life throws you a curve ball, or events in your life, career, or family dynamics feel like “not what I had planned”, you’re not alone. Everyone feels the struggle of “not what I had planned”… everyone, except God. He knows. He is sovereign. He is not caught off guard. You can rest assured that your life, though confusing to you, may be God’s sovereign work of Grace for others in your world around you.

Maybe you need to hear the words of C.S. Lewis again, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course, that what one calls interruptions ARE precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one, day by day.” If God is able to see your life as an orchestration of His Divine work, maybe we can learn to see it this way too.

Merry Christmas. May all your plans, and un-plans, lead you closer to Jesus, who was born for you, and relentlessly pursues your heart. He’s not going to give up.

A Worthy Prayer

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on Ephesians 3:14-21.jon-tyson-YtYNavix3pw-unsplash

Praying takes work. It doesn’t come by us naturally. How goes your prayer life? Do you incorporate prayer into everything you do? As people who follow Jesus, we are called to grow up in our faith, and one of the strongest faith components includes prayer in conversation with God. Pastor Reid preaches on one of his favorite scriptures in the Epistles (click here for the video).

A Prayer Worth Praying

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on Ephesians 3:14-21.

praying.together(click here for the video) The Apostle Paul includes a prayer over the church in Ephesus in one of his prison epistles. This prayer has shaped my life as a pastor for 30 years. It is one of Paul’s crowning jewels in prayer over a little church 2,000 years ago. It’s applicable today in so many ways. Paul prays with a confidence that comes from knowing we can enter into God’s throne room at any time and God will hear us. God’s desire is that we utilize the power of God in our daily circumstances so that we might grasp just how unfathomable are the riches of God for us. If we were to realize the full measure of grace God has granted to us in Christ Jesus, we could change the world. This is Paul’s prayer, that we could know the riches of God in Christ. My prayer for the church is that we might move past ourselves and begin to comprehend our location in the heavenly realms in Christ. Nothing can stop the one who believes in the full measure of God in us.

“Put It All On My Tab”

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on the book of Philemon in the New Testament of the Bible.

caleb-woods-VZILDYoqn_U-unsplashPhilemon was a guy who wanted to seek revenge on a former slave, for some crime done against him. The Apostle Paul sent Philemon a letter, along with the former slave, Onesimus, himself. Paul was asking Philemon to extend the kind of forgiveness to Onesimus that Jesus Christ himself had extended to Philemon (are you still following?). And on top of all this, Paul himself is the one who brought Philemon to faith in God, and brought Omesimus to faith in God also. So Paul is asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus based on the debt he owes back to Paul, “his very life”. I don’t know if we know how to forgive in our western culture, like Paul is asking Philemon to forgive. And even beyond this little book, Paul is asking you and I to learn to forgive like this, so that our witness to the world is like that of Jesus Christ. (click here for video).

Remember My Chains

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on Colossians 4:12-18. boatonwater

Nearing the end of his life, the Apostle Paul is thanking friends for walking with him in faith while in prison for sharing the gospel. The gospel is many things. It is sharing the love of Jesus with the world. The word evangelism is getting a bad rap these days. Maybe it’s the word evangelical, which is diving the country, depending on which way you’re looking at it. But the Apostle Paul still wants you to share your faith in Jesus with others. So, the gospel is relational, the gospel is tenacious, and the gospel includes suffering. We don’t like to embrace suffering, as much as we can help it, but even Jesus himself suffered for representing God. How are you representing God through your life today? Does it align with how people in the Bible shared the gospel? If so, good. If not, why not? (click here to view the video)

Stitched Together

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on Colossians 4:7-11.

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The Apostle Paul is now thanking the people who helped him get these letters out to churches, while he sits in prison in Rome. What would be your goal, when sitting in prison? Would you want to reach out to people you don’t know, and share the gospel like Paul did? Paul thanks those around him for their part in his ministry with local churches. I spent the week at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey learning about the Art of Transitional Ministry, and in this video teaching I share with the church the teaching I learned. There are many things a church can do, and many things a transitional pastor can do when leading a church.

A Clear Vision

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on Colossians 4:2-6.

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Paul is in prison, and writes about how we can encourage one another in the faith. He gives us admonition to be ready to answer anyone for the faith you believe. He recommends that our speech always be seasoned with salt, rather than vinegar. He asks the faith community to pray that God would open doors for the gospel to be shared. I think this “praying for open doors” is a ways of saying we all can look for opportunities to share our faith in God. The clear vision of Paul was that the gospel is relationships and that gospel is life saving in relationships, and that in relationships God is opening doors for His Kingdom to grow and flourish. How are you praying for open doors and open hearts in the lives of your friends? Keep the main thing the main thing, and keep sharing your love for Jesus in this dark world. You never know what God can do.

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