#blessed

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largeRecently, there has been a trend in social media using #blessed to describe something good that has happened to you. I have seen tweets describing winning the lottery, losing weight, getting a new car, winning a football game, getting into college, and even getting gifts from friends. This was a topic I spoke on with my students this past weekend, but I think it’s part of a much larger issue that is hindering our view of God.

For a long time, we have confused blessings with success. And it is true that throughout Scripture, there are prosperous blessings given to individuals. Luckily for us, we have best selling books that teach us how to pray the prayers those individuals prayed so that we may receive the same blessings. Life is all about receiving financial, health, relational, or career blessings. And when those things happen, we are all of a sudden #blessed.

Our view of God changes based upon what kind of “blessings” we are receiving at the moment. If we are experiencing financial success, God is this benevolent God who freely gives. If we aren’t experiencing financial success, God is reminding us that our trust needs to be in Him alone. Or if we are healed of a health scare, God has blessed us with life. But if we are not healed of an ailment, then God must have thought that it was “our time to go.” When we get something, God is blessing us. When we apparently aren’t getting anything, God is teaching us something. Some will argue that through the lessons, we will be blessed. But this still seems a bit off.

I believe that we are blessed because of who God is…not because of what God gives.

From the nature of God, flows blessings. But it is an error to base the nature of God off the content of His blessings. If we view God in this way, then His nature is ever changing based on our circumstances. Is that a God that we really want to follow? We are blessed to follow a God that is who He is. In Exodus 3.14, God declares “I am who I am.” I love this phrase because it sheds light on the nature of God.

The modern evangelical church seems to be a bit enamored with blessings. We sing for Him to pour out His blessings upon us. We praise Him when we are blessed with tangible things that help us make it through life. We pray that God “blesses” us in prosperous ways. I have heard people say that they are so blessed while others seem to not be as blessed. I have sat in meetings when people seem to think that God is pouring out His blessings on our endeavors. This view of God is based upon what He gives rather than who He is.

I know that I have said that I am blessed to have a job, a home, a car, a steady income, etc. I have said these things in the past. If I were to lose these things, I would probably say that I am blessed to have other things. But that line of thinking still focuses on what He has given rather than who He is.

Financial blessings may pour out from the heavens but that isn’t the blessing. The blessing is that we have a God who is benevolent.

Forgiveness flows freely from Him but that isn’t the blessing. The blessing is that we have a merciful and gracious God.

We may do a great work in this world but that isn’t the blessing. The blessing is that we have a God who is focused on showing this ministry of reconciliation in this world.

We may be blessed with a spouse or a boyfriend/girlfriend but that isn’t the blessing. The blessing is that we have a God who desires relationships and created us with that same desire.

Our blessing is that God is who He is.

Does this mean we shouldn’t pray for these other “blessings?” That is a great question and one that I have been pondering quite a bit lately. I honestly don’t quite know. We are told that we can ask anything of God. But are our motivations pure (we could get into a long conversation about the question of whether or not anyone can have “pure” motivations)? Or are our motivations based upon what He can give us? I would appreciate any input you are willing to give on that point.

If our view of God is based upon an idea that He has blessed us with a great day of football (yes, I saw a tweet from FOX that stated we were blessed with a great day of football last week), then I think we are missing out on what blessing really means and who God really is. We are blessed because of who God is not because of what God gives. We need to stop using the word “blessed” in substitution for living the “American Dream.” It does a great hindrance to who God is and what He is about.

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Nebraska & Reconciliation

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Image“Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!” — Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern)

I’m a huge fan of Alexander Payne. I could talk for hours on his ability to craft a humorous and yet painful look at serious subject matter. Nebraska wasn’t any different. Although it still isn’t my favorite Payne film (The Descendants definitely stands at number 1, still), it is still highly ranked.

[Some of you may view what follows as spoilers]

The film is shot in black and white and has this sort of faded grittiness to it. It centers around a son and his father going on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska so the father can claim his million dollars that a Publisher’s Clearing House type company told him he won. The father, who is either senile or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, has not had an ideal relationship with his family. Alcoholism has consumed him for a majority of his life. But family is family. And the sons still love and care for their father no matter how mean he can get. Even though they don’t know much about his life, they empathize with him and stick up for him as a good man who provided for his family. He was a man that was always willing to help out when someone needed help.

But I don’t want to focus on the details of the film. Instead, I want to focus on the beauty of seeing relationships reconciled.

Nebraska pulls on the heart because we all long to see relationships mended. Brokenness was never in God’s plan for humanity. And yet, it rears its ugly head in every single relationship. There are several things we can blame the brokenness on: alcohol, addictions, self-harm, disagreements, finances, etc. But here’s the point: it all comes back to us.

We’ve all been hurt by people. It’s inevitable. Unless you live your life as a hermit and don’t talk to anyone, you will undoubtedly walk around with scars from what someone has done to you. Likewise, someone is probably walking around with scars from what you’ve done to them. We all hurt each other. But how do we move toward reconciliation when the deepest cuts are ones that will never heal?

The easy (and extraordinarily difficult) answer is that we must learn how to forgive even if they will never ask for forgiveness. That’s a difficult process. It’s one that I still am trying to navigate how to do in my own life. As a person who wants justice, I feel like my grudges are forgiven because of how much the person wronged me. That’s not true. I know it isn’t. But most of us walk around our entire lives believing things we know aren’t true but refuse to admit it because of our self-righteous attitudes.

But Nebraska reminded me of the urgency to reconcile relationships. If you asked me right now of a name of a relationship I needed to reconcile, I could probably give you 10 names. If you asked me what I’m doing to reconcile those relationships, I would probably mumble something along the lines of, “but they are the ones who hurt me…” It’s almost like we forget what it is like for someone to come up to us and say, “I forgive you,” and we refuse to allow someone who has wronged us to experience that same grace.

I understand that there needs to be healing. I am not trying to diminish the pain that you are going through. Believe me, I wouldn’t do that. Work through the pain…but work toward reconciliation, as well. The problem with working through pain is that many times we work through something to find ourselves…when we really need to work through things to find Jesus. Christ will always point us toward reconciliation because Christ was all about reconciliation.

And He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

Are we doing anything to work toward reconciliation? Are we asking ourselves questions each day about what we are doing to reconcile broken relationships? Has the sun gone down on our anger one too many nights?

I think too often we convince ourselves that we are in a healthy place because we only have a few broken relationships. And since we aren’t around those people anymore, we are fine. But do not be deceived: a shred of leftover bitterness is enough to destroy every single relationship you will ever have. We would be naive to think otherwise.

Nebraska looks at a broken relationship between a father and son. It’s humorous as much as it is heartbreaking. The truth is, is that the film will be true of many relationships in our lives. The truth is, is that God never intended it to be that way…nor does He want us to be content with things being that way.

Reconciliation will hurt. But so does most of life. What hurts even worse is seeing, at the end of your life, all of the relationships that you will never be able to reconcile because you waited too long or allowed your heart to become too hard. Let’s begin being the church and seeking reconciliation before we begin justifying our actions because of our scars. We all have scars. And we all cause scars. Let’s move beyond that and to something greater. Something that resembles the Kingdom.

Getting Rid of Your Baggage

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ImageOn my desk are cards. Perhaps I should rephrase that: on my desk are comment cards. I’ve thought about throwing them away. Some of them are really kind…but others are vicious. Part of me wants to hold on to them so bad. They keep me humble. But most of the time they just bring up anger and bitterness.

We all have “comment cards” of some form.

Perhaps it is a note from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.

Or maybe it is a picture of a friend who betrayed you.

Maybe it is a church bulletin from a church that ran you out.

A book that reminds you of bad days from high school.

A shirt from a parent who hurt you.

We all have those “comment cards” and we are all scared to part with them. I have no idea why this is. Are we gluttons for punishment? Do we really like to be reminded over and over again of past pain? We must. That would be the only logical explanation for why we keep these things. And when we keep them, it is like we are pouring salt on an open wound.

You’ve seen the cycle – you might have even been through the cycle yourself. You see these items and immediately are angered. As time progresses you turn bitter. As time progresses further, you become callous. Callousness is what scares me the most. Because when we become callous…

we stop loving

we stop yearning for more

we stop trying to achieve our dreams

we stop maintaining relationships

we stop.

Callousness is the final nail in our coffin. It causes us to remove the joy from everything in life. So before you hit that level, have you identified your “comment cards?” Get rid of them. Get rid of them so that you can live. Don’t try to convince yourself that you’re keeping them to keep you humble or to remind you of him/her or in hopes of regaining their friendship. Stop coming up with excuses and start living your life without the baggage of past pain.