Palm Sunday and “Gas Station” Christianity

bad coffeeMeditated yesterday on Palm Sunday.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem, and the people celebrated him like a king coming into his kingdom. They threw their robes and palm branches down, crying out “Hosanna!” to him, literally, “God help us! Save us!”
As we know, the Jews were looking for a Messiah that would free them from their Roman oppression and establish a new Jewish kingdom more extensive and powerful than David and Solomon’s combined.
They got that. But just not as they defined it. They got something far better. An eternal kingdom and an eternal king, a freedom not predicated upon local or imperial law that can be changed and abused but upon an eternal reality that can never be shake, a heavenly Kingdom that will shake and dismantle every earthly one.
But since that Jesus didn’t meet the expectations of many of the Jews – the ones in power, the ones whose power was based on Rome’s power – then they had to end him to preserve and accomplish their ends.
God can disappoint you. The true God and Messiah, the true Gospel, the eternal Kingdom, is bigger than modern political positions, agendas, and leaders. And if we want what is less that what God is, God angers and disappoints us.
Was it the same people on Palm Sunday that cried “crucify” the following Friday? Probably not the exact same, but it would be beyond logic to think they were two totally different groups of people, as well. 
The point is this: it is ironic that the greatest being in existence, the one who is the source of love and creation, can be seen as “not enough” to the very same creation. That disappointment, and resulting anger and disbelief even that God exists, is a deception based on lowered expectations.
One of our “coffee” pastors was talking with another coffee distributor the other day, and this distributor was giving our pastor a hard time about how much we pay our farmers for the coffee – like, we pay too much. And our pastor turned to this distributor and said, “We’re not serving gas station coffee, here!” Not realizing that this distributor’s expertise was, in fact, coffee in gas stations.
Our coffee is the top 1% coffee in the world and we were taught to roast by one of the best roasters in the world. It is amazing coffee. Additionally, we pay our farmers 4-5 times fair trade, directly, and that money gives dignified employment and relief and ministry. We also support pastors, missionaries, and other domestic relief by selling the coffee here in the US.
Even though our coffee does amazing things and tastes as good as anything out there, some people prefer bad coffee. You know, they were raised on Folgers pumped full of sugar and milk. Smooth, great tasting coffee makes them wince and spit it out.
Coffee isn’t the point, though. That’s just an example of the principle. There is nothing greater than the Eternal King and Kingdom. But if our expectation of Christianity, of God Himself, is colored by what is by nature less – the things and thinking of this world – then when confronted by the real thing, we wince and spew it forth. We reject it, and ultimately, because the source of our thinking is this world, then it is no surprise when we reject all forms of Christianity and the existence of God Himself.
The only solution to this is relationship with the person of God. That will train our spiritual pallet to what is real and true, lift our vision ever higher with peace and joy. Taste and see. He’s good.
It works the other way, too. When we are used to great coffee, as I am, then it is easy to recognize bad coffee, crappy coffee. Same with the Kingdom. Through a consistent relationship with the Creator, I can more easily recognize that which is not of Him, that which is of the world.
God isn’t offering “gas station” Christianity, or a “gas station” Kingdom. It is the greatest eternal Kingdom that can possibly exist. That’s all he offers. There is no watered down version of that. It cannot exist. He loves us too much to offer less.

Patrick and the Kingdom of God

StPatrick1As usual, we have another “Christian” holiday that is more about cartoon characters and what we can get rather than celebrating, you know, the actual person and what they stood for and believed. That would be too “religious” I guess, so we should just drink a lot of green beer, pinch each other for not wearing green, and butcher Irish accents. Because that’s what St. Patrick was about.

If you haven’t heard the story about St. Patrick, it is an epic one. I would love to see a quality film made based on his life, but that’s probably not going to happen for a while, if ever. The powers of Hollywood are busy with their own agenda; real history and great story are sacrificed for that.

Patrick was a Briton under Rome and somewhat educated in the Christian religion. As a young man, he was abducted by Irish pagan raiders and brought back to Ireland as a slave. While a slave, he learned Irish language and culture from his captors/masters and began to seriously pray to God. God spoke to him and told him to start walking and leave his life of slavery. Through a series of amazing events, he returned to his family and began to pursue a life as a Catholic priest.

While studying and moving forward with his religious career, Patrick had a dream where an Irishman begged him to come and preach the Gospel to them. He struggled with that, as anyone would, but ultimately got the sanction from the powers that be to go be a missionary to Ireland.

This was more difficult than you might imagine. The Catholic church at that time saw “barbarians” like the Irish as practically unreachable. There was no effort to do so. Patrick’s request was unique and met with resistance and skepticism. But Patrick pushed forward. That’s what happens when you get a word from God.

Patrick was criticised and even sanctioned, to a degree, for how different he was with the Irish. He spoke to them in their own language, used their own culture to express the absolute truth of the Gospel in a new way, in contrast to the Roman way of making a people learn Latin and Roman culture and “civilization” before ever thinking a people could hear the Gospel. Patrick took ideas from Paul and the New Testament and miraculously changed an entire nation with the Gospel. He loved those that hated him and transformation happened.

A brutal and violent people were changed. Patrick used their love of poetry and song and education to teach them about the love and truth of Christ. And within a couple generations, Irish missionaries went out into Europe as the Roman Empire fell away and their government/religion along with it, and those Irish missionaries did what Patrick taught them to do – they preached the Gospel out of relationship and love and re-evangelized most of Europe.

As Seamus McManus said in his amazing book, The Story of the Irish Race, “The coming of Patrick to Ireland marks the greatest of Irish epochs. Of all most momentous happenings in Irish history, this seemingly simple one had the most extraordinary, most far-reaching effect. It changed the face of the nation, and utterly changed the nation’s destiny. The coming of Patrick may be said to have had a sublime effect not on Ireland alone, but upon the world. It was a world event.”

Patrick changed a nation, and history itself, with the love of the Gospel.

So of course, we should drink lots of green beer and put leprechauns on our FB pages. Makes sense.

To be fair, I will be drinking some beer today, hopefully a Guinness, because I am of Irish descent and that’s how we roll.

But more importantly, I will be reminded of the world-changing power of the Gospel as we celebrate St. Patrick, because I am a child of God. And that’s how we roll.


The Kingdom House on a Rock

house on rock… and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. – Jesus

At the conclusion of Jesus’ famous sermon, what we call the Sermon the Mount, he gives his conclusion in the form of a parable.

There are two men. If you hear these words and do them, then you’re like a man who built his house on a rock, and when the rains and storms came, then the house remained standing. If you hear these words and do not do them, then you’re like a man who built his house on the sand. When the rain and storms came, the house did not remain. It fell.

And great was its fall.

Looking at the contrast here, let’s first look at what they have in common. First, they both built a house. Whether we know it or not, we’re building on something. We can deny it, even, but that doesn’t make it more or less true. We all build our own “house”, our life, on something.

Second, the rains and storms came to both. If you think Christianity or following Jesus or entering the Kingdom means that we are now exempt from hard times or struggles or storms beating on us, then that isn’t the Way taught by Christ, nor is it the faith expressed by the Apostles in the New Testament. We’ve all had times in our lives when we felt like life was “beating on us” to the point we didn’t know if we would survive.

Third, they both heard the word of Christ. Both went to church. Both heard the sermons and teachings and read their Bibles. They both know what Jesus said.

The only difference between them was that one did not live by the word of God and the second did. And that one difference was the difference between life and death.

In his letter to the church, James says it this way. If we hear and do not do, it’s like a man who looked in the mirror and then when he walked away immediately forgot what he saw. It’s like it didn’t happen.

God’s revelation about Himself and the Kingdom is precious. It is the most worthwhile substance in existence. And to have that and not follow it is like crapping on diamonds and gold. Except multiply that by infinity.

Living by the Revelation of God and the Kingdom (all interconnected) is the most secure thing you can imagine. Many of us live by our feelings/emotions or our intellect or our will, all of which are not evil in and of themselves but were not designed to be the foundation for reality and life. Therefore, they each become idols apart from God’s revelation and that leads to a fall. And how great is that fall.

The revelation of God, the love of God, the Kingdom, is unfailing. It is immovable. it is unshakable. Because it comes from the only God in existence, and he is immutable. His love and revelation and Kingdom are of the same nature. And the Kingdom of God is meant to inform the intellect, stabilize the emotion, and purify the will. It is holistic.

God loves all of us, every part of us, so His Kingdom engages the mind – what better or lofty topic than the powers and influences that are unseen but created all that is seen? His Kingdom gives us emotional security – we are loved, accepted, and we have worth. That is not something we emotionally seek or can earn but possess within our very identity. His kingdom gives us the proper motivation and will – to love and serve others solely for their eternal good and needing nothing in return since we will possess and will inherit the Kingdom that is over all.

That is a complete love we can only experience in relationship with Him. The words I just used cannot begin to describe how fulfilling and amazing that love is.

It is not a love or a Kingdom that rescues us from the storms and the winds of life that beat upon us. No. It is a love and a Kingdom that will endure these things and still stand shining in the sun after the storms do their worst.

To live by anything else is tragic. How great is that fall.